What should be done to reduce commercial airline pilot fatigue? Are pilots work hours too long?

October 20, 2008

USA today;
The NTSB has for two decades called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to tighten restrictions on how many hours pilots can work each day. Airline crews can work up to 16 hours a day, possibly more if a flight is delayed. Research by the NTSB and others shows sharply higher risks of pilot mistakes and accidents after long shifts or periods without normal sleep.

The FAA has tried several times to revise pilot work rules since the 1990s, but the efforts failed each time under opposition from airlines and pilot unions.

Airlines recognize that tired pilots are not effective and have devoted considerable resources to the issue, said Basil Barimo, vice president of operations and safety at the Air Transport Association, the carriers' Washington trade group. In recent years, most carriers have boosted fatigue training and strengthened policies allowing pilots to decline to fly if they feel tired, Barimo said.

Frontier Airlines acknowledged Wednesday that two of its pilots fell asleep on a 2004 red-eye flight from Baltimore to Denver. One pilot awoke to "frantic calls" from a controller, according to a report on the incident in the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System.

The NASA system contains 750 incidents since 2003 in which aviation workers cited fatigue-related incidents. Pilots were involved in 650 of those cases. USA TODAY also found four additional cases in which pilots reported falling asleep. None caused an accident.

This whole question, and all the responses display the exact problem in commercial aviation today. There is not a lack or pilots, there is a shortage of pilots who want to work for 21000 a year. Pilots do NOT get enough rest and the problem rests directly on the FAA. For most domestic commercial pilots, the FAA requires you must receive 9 hours of rest for a normal day, seems fair enough. That is, until you consider that this 'rest' begins 15 minutes after you arrive at the gate, and lasts until you duty in the next morning, often times 45 min before your first flight. So let's assume that we leave the plane 15 min after arriving at the gate, usually takes more like 25 min, and then walk to wait for the shuttle. The shuttle is almost never there and we waste another 30 min waiting for it. We'll assume for this scenario, that the hotel is close to the airport and say 10 min, although in reality in traffic, bad weather, or many other factors it usually takes much longer. By the time we get to the hotel we have already used 40 minutes of our 'rest' and we still have not checked in. Checking in and possibly eating dinner takes another 45 min, so now our 9 hours is down to 7.5. By the time you go to bed and finally get to sleep, it is probably an hour later. Now we need to arrive at the airport 45 min before flight, so we can duty in on time, this puts us leaving the hotel 15 min before then. Most hotels only run their vans every 30 min, so we must conform to their schedule, this puts us downstairs, on the van 75 min prior to departure. Keep in mind, this is all 'rest'. In this example, the pilot only got 6 hours of rest and didn't even get a chance to get breakfast. Real world conditions occur which reduce the rest even further. This whole scenario was predicated on the pilot given normal rest of 9 hours, did you know that the company can actually reduce that rest to 8 hours? How much sleep do you think the pilot is getting then?

Also, those of you who think pilots are overpaid, I bet you didn't take a 50% paycut after 9/11, and I bet the average salary for your position has risen over the past 20 years. Not so for pilots. People always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence…..

Edit: Oh ya, I forgot, now imagine flying a plane with 100 people in the back at 140 kt down to 200 ft above the ground because that is where you finally break out of the clouds. Ya, pilots are definitely overpaid…..

Comments

8 Responses to “What should be done to reduce commercial airline pilot fatigue? Are pilots work hours too long?”

  1. skdonweb on October 20th, 2008 10:55 am

    Blame it on the very high pay packages that airlines pay to the pilots. They want to make sure that they extract every pound of flesh from these pilots.

    While I agree that Pilots (especially those flying on International routes) need more rest, the reason why they are not able to do so is the acute shortage of good trained pilots.

    Becoming a pilot is a very expensive and time taking process. To be able to fly big passenger jets, one has to spend lot of money and gain experience. Moreover, as I mentioned above, airlines pay very high salaries to these pilots and want to make them work as much as they can.
    References :

  2. DT3238 on October 20th, 2008 11:40 am

    They only fly 80 hours a month. On long flights they have beds. The issue you describe is more about overnight than overwork- a common problem with shift workers.
    References :

  3. Calum J on October 20th, 2008 12:23 pm

    pilots should sleep more, instead of getting pissed in the bar with their sexy stewardesses
    References :

  4. Doggzilla on October 20th, 2008 12:35 pm

    This is why I dont exercise my commercial pilot license anymore, companies like to force their pilots to fly when they really shouldn't.
    What broke the camels back in my case was that when one of my family members was paralyzed from radiation therapy, another went blind from a stroke, and another was diagnosed with lung cancer all in the same month, and they forced me to fly when I told them I was completely overwhelmed. They actually told me "Deal with it", and "So what?".
    During the flight I was stressed out enough that I couldn't even understand what ATC told me. I couldn't even remember the frequencies long enough to enter them in my comm stack.
    I ended up asking the captain to deal with almost everything.
    Another time the crew before us found a huge bag of weed in the aircraft, and the company reps just emptied it out on the taxiway instead of informing security, just because they were worried about our reputation.
    Another time I saw a pilot do a line of coke, and not only did they tell me to shut the hell up, they threatened to fire me. One of them actually said something to the effect that it was normal for guys our age.
    References :

  5. rookethorne on October 20th, 2008 1:22 pm

    No 'PAX' in this question then?
    References :

  6. terry r on October 20th, 2008 1:58 pm

    You have to be kidding! pilots are the most underworked and overpaid people in aviation.
    References :

  7. Been There on October 20th, 2008 2:10 pm

    First of all USA today is a rag!!! It is only good for wrapping fish, lining bird cages or wiping up oil spills in your garage!! They have never printed a positive story about General or Commercial Aviation. So your first mistake was believing anything they have to say. Secondly, as a flight engineer I've been on enough flights to know that Pilots and all aircrew can get enough rest especially on longer flights if they want to. Pilots and Co-pilots can switch off napping (which is legal) in flight if they choose. Bottom line…Do not believe USA Today
    References :
    When you've been in the business as long as I have……..

  8. bobbs b on October 20th, 2008 2:47 pm

    This whole question, and all the responses display the exact problem in commercial aviation today. There is not a lack or pilots, there is a shortage of pilots who want to work for 21000 a year. Pilots do NOT get enough rest and the problem rests directly on the FAA. For most domestic commercial pilots, the FAA requires you must receive 9 hours of rest for a normal day, seems fair enough. That is, until you consider that this 'rest' begins 15 minutes after you arrive at the gate, and lasts until you duty in the next morning, often times 45 min before your first flight. So let's assume that we leave the plane 15 min after arriving at the gate, usually takes more like 25 min, and then walk to wait for the shuttle. The shuttle is almost never there and we waste another 30 min waiting for it. We'll assume for this scenario, that the hotel is close to the airport and say 10 min, although in reality in traffic, bad weather, or many other factors it usually takes much longer. By the time we get to the hotel we have already used 40 minutes of our 'rest' and we still have not checked in. Checking in and possibly eating dinner takes another 45 min, so now our 9 hours is down to 7.5. By the time you go to bed and finally get to sleep, it is probably an hour later. Now we need to arrive at the airport 45 min before flight, so we can duty in on time, this puts us leaving the hotel 15 min before then. Most hotels only run their vans every 30 min, so we must conform to their schedule, this puts us downstairs, on the van 75 min prior to departure. Keep in mind, this is all 'rest'. In this example, the pilot only got 6 hours of rest and didn't even get a chance to get breakfast. Real world conditions occur which reduce the rest even further. This whole scenario was predicated on the pilot given normal rest of 9 hours, did you know that the company can actually reduce that rest to 8 hours? How much sleep do you think the pilot is getting then?

    Also, those of you who think pilots are overpaid, I bet you didn't take a 50% paycut after 9/11, and I bet the average salary for your position has risen over the past 20 years. Not so for pilots. People always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence…..

    Edit: Oh ya, I forgot, now imagine flying a plane with 100 people in the back at 140 kt down to 200 ft above the ground because that is where you finally break out of the clouds. Ya, pilots are definitely overpaid…..
    References :

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