Pilot + Fatigue = Danger

It is no longer questioned that pilot fatigue is a threat to flight safety.

A tired pilot is a dangerous pilot, as many accidents have shown.

Ever since the 1944 Chicago Convention, it is recognised that fatigue (due to long duty hours, insufficient rest/sleep opportunities etc.) can pose a risk to the safety of air operations. The best way to limit this risk is by adequate Flight Time Limitations.

Reality is, however, that authorities often need a fatal wake-up call before they introduce adequate FTL rules. In the USA, it wasn’t until after the 2009 crash of a Colgan Air plane that the issue of pilot fatigue came under scrutiny and new safety rules were adopted.

Fatigue reduces the physical and mental ability to operate safely. A fatigued person may lose 80% of his/her attention capabilities and 70% of responsiveness. It is estimated that pilot fatigue contributes to 15-20% of all fatal air accidents related to human error. It is precisely at the moment when most people would feel ‘dead tired’ at the end of a long working day, that pilots must be fully alert to make critical decisions, concentrate and ensure a safe landing.

Scientists have warned that effects of severe fatigue are comparable to those provoked by alcohol. However, whilst alcohol is forbidden in transport, fatigue in the cockpit is tolerated.

Fatigue is already a reality in Europe’s cockpits today. Surveys among pilots show that 71-90% of pilots said they made errors due to fatigue, with 50-54% saying they dozed off in the cockpit without notifying their colleague.

In May 2012, an Air Berlin plane requested an emergency landing in Munich, due to the pilots being severely fatigued. In 2007, an aircraft with 288 passengers on board comes off the runway in Iceland when landing. The investigation shows: fatigue was to blame.

This is why Europe needs strict, scientifically based rules to prevent fatigue from posing a risk to the safety of passengers, crew and people living under the flight-paths.