Fatigue again in the spotlight

15/03/2013

An undisclosed judicial inquiry report, obtained by the French news magazine Le Point cites pilot fatigue as contributing factor to the Air France Flight 447 accident, considered one of the worst aviation accidents in history. The AF 447 crash happened on 1 June 2009 during a night flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris-Charles de Gaulle and cost the lives of all 228 people on board of the aircraft. The accident had previously been investigated by the French  Accident Investigation Body BEA, whose report does not differ much from the judicial inquiry report. Except for the conclusions on one point: fatigue.

Fatigue has also been quoted in an official accident investigation report1, published on 1 March 2013. This report identifies pilot fatigue as a probable contributor to the Afriqiyah Airways 771 accident in 2010. During a night flight from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Tripoli (Libya) the plane with 93 passengers and 11 crew members on board crashed during a go-around at Tripoli airport. Sixty-one Dutch nationals were among those killed. Only one passenger, 9-year-old Dutch boy, survived the crash.

The investigation report concludes that sleep deprivation due to 2 consecutive night flights and rest being taken at daytime during a stopover in Johannesburg have impaired the crew’s ability to recover from the situation before collision with the ground. Fatigue is also likely to have impaired the communications performance among the crew. 

In the context of these tragedies, survey results among pilots have already pointed towards night flights or series of night flights as a serious contributor to pilot fatigue. Another serious safety incident happened on 13 March 2012 around 04:50 while an aircraft en route from Mali to France was descending towards Paris for an ILS Category III approach to runway 08R. While nobody was hurt, again, BEA report concludes that fatigue by both controllers and pilots might have contributed to this serious incident2.


The investigation shows that during a go-around procedure, the pilots suffered from a sensory illusion associated with the acceleration of the aircraft. The false impression of an excessive rate of climb and a lack of external visual references led the crew to decrease the airplane’s pitch attitude to such a degree that it descended and collided with the ground.

2 Summary in English available on Aviation Herald website