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Pilot Fatigue in Aviation Essay

Aviation transport is said to be the safest transportation method by man but is challenged by incidents and accidents that resulted to tragic loss of lives and damage to properties. One very important reason that is being looked upon by aviation and concerned authorities like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is of man’s physiological limitation which is fatigue. Pilot fatigue is highly blamed in most aviation accidents over the years.

The risk of accident is said to be high if the pilot is deprived of sleep. Sleep is a vital physiological function, and obtaining even one hour less than required can increase waking sleepiness (Air Line Pilot, November 1994, page 22). Sleep loss can be acute and if continued over time may result in a cumulative sleep debt. Cumulative sleep loss and disruption of 24-hour biological, or circadian rhythms can lead to decreased waking alertness, impaired performance, and altered mood.

Fatigue is the symptom often reported to characterize the sum of these negative experiences. Sleep-deprived personnel lose approximately 25% to 30% of their ability to perform useful mental work with each 24-hour period of sleep loss (Johnston III, S. L. , 2005). In fact, a 2003 study on the impact of fatigue on F-117 pilots revealed that 27-33 hours of sleep deprivation (1 night of sleep loss) degrade basic piloting skills by more than 40% below normal (Johnston III, S. L, 2005).

For this reason, NASA and FAA has collaborated to do research programs on this safety concern. The NASA Ames Fatigue/Jet Lag Program (now the Fatigue Countermeasures Program) was jointly funded by the FAA’s Human Factors Research Program for many years (Mann, M. B. , www. hq. nasa. gov). The results of its research have determined that fatigue is really needed to be addressed to maintain the safety of aviation personnel to prevent loss of lives and properties. How to address then fatigue as a safety concern?

It is unfortunate that there is no one simple solution because fatigue has multitudes of causes. For NASA’s Fatigue Countermeasures Program, the approach is said to be multi-faceted and comprehensive yet must be an integrated approach. Accordingly, it should have at least the following components: education and training, hours of service, sound scheduling practices, effective countermeasures, incorporation of appropriate design and technologies, and research (Mann, M. B. , www. hq. nasa. gov). Education and Training.

Education establishes the knowledge base for the successful acceptance of all other activities. In 1994, NASA has developed an education and training module on alertness management in flight operation. This module was in use by already at least 149 organizations reaching more than 116,000 crewmembers in 1998 (Mann, M. B. , www. hq. nasa. gov). Hours of Service. Principles and guidelines for duty and rest scheduling must be developed. The latest scientific research on fatigue must be incorporated and reflected to these guidelines and principles as needed.

Sound Scheduling Practices. Sound scheduling practices should include scientific information about sleep, fatigue, and circadian rhythms, in addition to other factors, in creating and evaluating flight crew schedules. Countermeasures. An integrated approach calls for making full use of personal, corporate, and even regulatory countermeasure strategies. These strategies can be implemented preventively, using them before duty and on layovers to reduce the effects of fatigue, sleep loss, and circadian disruption during flight operations.

As per study by the Fatigue Countermeasures Program, Flight crews receiving brief hourly activity breaks (involving mild physical activity and social interaction) showed improved physiological alertness for at least 15 minutes relative to a control group, while reporting significantly greater alertness for up to 25 minutes post-break. Design and Technology. The aviation industry must tap advances in design and technology to address this safety concern of fatigue. It is said that technology has changed or evolved dramatically over the past decades but man’s need for sleep did not.

Good system design incorporates information about human physiology, its limitations and strengths, early in the process. Technological approaches that use this information can take many forms, including flight crew scheduling algorithms (i. e. , the methodology of choosing flight crews) and alertness monitoring/management systems (Mann, M. B. , www. hq. nasa. gov). . Research. Continues research on this area of concern must be done. More research is needed to fully understand the capabilities and limitations of the human sleep and circadian systems.

With the advent of technological devices claiming to detect fatigue, a focused research is needed to ascertain the sensitivity, the reliability and the validity of these devices. Continued research is also essential to address regulatory, scheduling, and countermeasure questions. It has been said that decision making and policy is guided by a valid and empirical data obtained through research (Mann, M. B. , www. hq. nasa. gov). Pilot fatigue then in aviation, if not completely eliminated, is greatly reduced to obtain peak performance of pilots by integrating the above suggested components.

With peak performance of pilots, safety in aviation is greatly improved. . References Air Line Pilot, November 1994, Fatigue in Aviation, page 22, by the Flight Management and Human Factors Division, NASA Ames Research Center. Retrieved June 9, 2009, http://cf. alpa. org/internet/projects/ftdt/alpmag/FATIGUE. html Johnston III, S. L. “Societal and Workplace Consequences of Insomnia, Sleepiness, and Fatigue”. (Sept. 29, 2005). Retrieved June 9, 2009. http://cme. medscape. com/viewarticle/513572_print Mann, M. B. , “Hearing on Pilot Fatigue”. Retrieved June 9, 2009 http://www. hq. nasa. gov/office/legaff/mann8-3. html


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