More than theory: 9 out of 10 pilots made mistakes due to fatigue


A new study on the prevalence of fatigue concludes that a large majority of airline pilots in Portugal are exposed to fatigue and highlights its impact on flight operations. According to the research, approx. 90% of pilots are extremely fatigued with medium/short-haul pilots being most prone to suffer from fatigue.

The new study, published in ‘Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine’ in Aug. 2013 and co-authored by 3 researchers linked to the Lisbon Medical School, focusses on identifying and quantifying the prevalence of fatigue among close to 500 Portuguese airline pilots.

Accordingly, 89.3% of Portuguese long-haul pilots and 94.1% of Portuguese medium/short-haul pilots have been fatigued in the 2 weeks prior to the start of survey. More than 65% said they felt too tired to be on controls of the aircraft more than once or frequently. Most worrying is that more than 9 out of 10 airline pilots say to have made mistakes in the cockpit as a direct consequence of fatigue. More than a half of the respondents (53%) have dozed-off in the cockpit without prior agreement with their colleague. Yet, only 18% of Portuguese airline pilots dared to report “unfit to fly” due to fatigue.

The study echoes the findings contained in the Pilot Fatigue Barometer published by ECA in 2012, covering similar surveys among 6.000 European pilots. The Barometer revealed that 4 out of 5 European pilots have to cope with fatigue while in the cockpit. Over 50% of surveyed European colleagues experience fatigue as impairing their ability to perform adequately while on flight duty and more than 3 out of 5 acknowledge to have made mistakes due to fatigue.

The data of the Portuguese researchers confirms that pilot fatigue is a reality in Europe’s cockpits already today. The results remind once again about the need for safe and scientifically-based Flight Time Limitations. 

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