Features

March 2009 Issue

Flight Training for Fatigue Awareness

Fatigue in the cockpit likely is something you brought with you. Learn to recognize when you might be too tired to fly and what you can do about it.

The news stories were hard to miss: On February 13, 2008, a go! Airlines flight crew, already weary from prior days of cycle-intensive flying, felt the warmth of the sun through the cockpit windscreen as they guided their 50-seat Bombardier regional jet to Hilo from Honolulu. The captain felt he just had to close his eyes for a minute; he succumbed, as did his first officer. The next thing they knew, ATC was calling. The flight was already well past the destination after some 20 minutes of snoozing, the crew mumbled something about radio problems, turned around and landed safely. They later conceded to investigators they had slept through prior calls. The first officer even noted he could hear the calls in his sleep—he just couldn’t respond. go! Airlines, a division of Mesa Air Group, suspended the two pilots that day; in April the airline terminated them citing evidence that both airline pilots apparently fell asleep on the flight deck. The outcome for other sleepy pilots has too often been more tragic than comic. Even though studied to near exhaustion, the insidious effects of fatigue, sleep interruption and sleep deficit continue to plague pilots in their planes. You don’t need to be an airline or corporate pilot, flying multiple segments two and three days in a row, to find yourself struggling to stay awake in the cockpit. You don’t even need to fly long leaps across multiple time zones. Fatigue sets in from issues as innocuous as a business or vacation trips with upset routines—later bedtimes, earlier rising, more late-night alcohol or unusual eating times all can contribute. Even something as simple as disrupted rest cycles for two or three days contributes to a sleep deficit. And like financial deficits, a shortage of good rest must eventually be repaid. If not, the body may force compensation against your will—and next thing you know, you’re asleep at the yoke.

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