Term Paper: Airline Crew Fatigue an Airline Safety Program

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Airline Crew Fatigue

An Airline Safety Program for Crew Fatigue

"Acme Airlines" (Acme Air) is a mid-sized regional carrier, for the purposes of this paper, that has undertaken to establish a "Crew Fatigue Prevention Program." Management has taken this action pursuant to safety concerns occasioned by several reported Acme Air crew-fatigue incidents and by recent tragic accident events at other regional airlines. Economic pressures have recently caused Acme Air to assign its nonunion crews (especially flight attendants) to multiple consecutive legs in an effort to cut overhead costs.

In the course of its safety review, four important new policies were adopted. First, management determined that flight attendant fatigue data needs to be collected from actual Acme Air operating environments. While some international airlines have been conducting studies with their flight attendants, the U.S. regional airlines have not yet collected field data.

Secondly, it also designed a crew reporting mechanism with associated feedback. This reporting procedure permits a flight attendant to "call in fatigued" similar to a pilot without discipline (non-punitive approach to safety).

A third new process was established for investigating fatigue reports or incidents and implementing new procedures that might solve or reduce the recurrence of the problem.

Finally, management now supports scheduling practices, operational practices, rest environments and attendance policies that support reducing fatigue in their operations (crewmembers, schedulers, dispatchers, etc.) having a responsibility for ensuring an airline operation that does not promote fatigue.

Implementation poses numerous real challenges, but they will be "fully addressed to ensue passenger safety," per Acme Air's CEO.

The Problem of Crew Fatigue at Acme Air

"My mind clicks on and off. I try letting one eyelid close at a time while I prop the other with my will. But the effect is too much, sleep is winning, my whole body argues dully that nothing, nothing life can attain is quite so desirable as sleep. My mind is losing resolution and control."

Charles Lindbergh about his 1927 transatlantic flight

According to the Regional Airline Association in Washington, which speaks for its member companies, the regionals serve 650 communities across the country; in 442 of those communities -- 70% -- regional airlines provide the only scheduled service. At many others, regionals carry the most passengers. For example, 17 regional airlines now provide 70% of the flights at Virginia's Richmond International Airport and carry more than half the passengers, according to figures from the Capital Region Airport Commission. The average regional airliner is now a 54-passenger turbine-powered plane flying trips of 461 miles, or just about the distance from Richmond to Atlanta. (Co, 1999)

Last year regionals carried nearly 160 million people nationally, about 20% of all U.S. air travelers. Acme Air is a growing part of this market segment, and faces the same issues as other similarly situated carriers.

Safety at the regionals is therefore a critical issue that directly impacts the public. On April 12, 2007, a Pinnacle Airlines jet ran off the end of the runway after landing at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Mich., during a snowstorm. No passengers or crew members were hurt, but the plane, a Canadair Regional Jet, sustained substantial damage.

The National Transportation Safety Board said that part of the crash's cause was the pilots' poor decision-making, likely reflecting the effects of fatigue from a long, and demanding duty day. The NTSB also said the Federal Aviation Administration's pilot flight and duty-time regulations, which permitted the pilots and cabin crew to become so fatigued, contributed to the mishap. The airlines need to recognize that the cost of fatigue and the errors that result are many times higher than the cost of ensuring adequate rest for their crews. Seventy percent of the accidents in aviation are due to pilot error, and fatigue is a major cause of those errors. If the airlines took measures to reduce fatigue, they would reduce the chances of errors due to fatigue. Many airlines have seen their total demise due to a single accident (i.e., ValuJet Flight 592). It is obvious that preventing fatigue would have a major cost advantage.

The Components of the Acme Air Crew Fatigue Safety Program

The first determination by management was to consider flight attendant fatigue issues as well as pilot schedules. Flight attendant mistakes are often not as obvious because of the current extraordinarily low number of accidents. But the potential for a serious incident is there.

To ensure safety of the entire transportation industry as a whole, workers that could have an effect on the survival rate of passengers, not just the pilot who operates the aircraft or the maintenance personnel who fix broken equipment. Cabin attendants are responsible for the equipment that fights fires, provides medical first response, and helps with a safe and speedy evacuation. (Waddell, 1998)

To say that flight attendant fatigue should not be a concern, or is not as important because they are not the sole factor that could cause an accident, or that they don't operate a moving vehicle, is to perpetuate an unspoken assumption that saving passenger lives doesn't matter.

Regional airline operations depend on the human operator to maintain high levels of flight safety. The specific operational requirements of regional operations create unique challenges regarding human fatigue. Regulatory differences, scheduling practices, and other factors have been suggested anecdotally as potential fatigue factors for regional operators.

The crews have certainly tried to bring attention to the problem. The subject of flight attendant fatigue was initially supposed to be studied by the FAA under a $200,000 appropriation from the Omnibus Appropriations for FY '05, with the findings to be reported back to Congress by June 1, 2005. Then the findings of this study were delayed for over a year, and only released after the flight attendants "staged an all-night 'sleep-in' in front of the FAA headquarters in order to draw attention to the issue. The FAA's CAMI then initiated an agreement with NASA Ames Research Center to perform an evaluation of the flight attendant fatigue issue. (http://human-factors.arc.nasa.gov/zteam/).

NASA's Human Factors Group then conducted an extensive survey to identify operational factors that may contribute to fatigue in regional airline operations. A retrospective survey of 119-questions was disseminated to pilots from 26 regional carriers.()

The survey addressed general demographic information, sleeping at home, flying (including recent flying experiences), duty days (including scheduling practices), fatigue (including perceptions of fatigue in regional operations, fatigue factors, and fatigue effects), and work environment (including corporate attitudes, safety, and management quality). The subjects were 1,424 regional flight crewmembers who voluntarily and anonymously completed the survey. Overall, crewmembers identified fatigue as an important consideration in regional airline operations, with 89% rating it a moderate or serious concern. Further, 88% reported that fatigue was a common occurrence in regional operations, and 92% reported that when fatigue occurs, it represents a moderate or serious safety issue. However, 86% reported that they received no training from their companies that addressed fatigue issues. Fatigue factors identified by respondents included multiple flight segments, scheduling considerations, varying regulations, and others.

The short-distance nature of regional operations results in multiple flight segments rather than the one or two long segments common in long-haul operations. The two most commonly cited fatigue factors regarded flying multiple (more than four) segments.

Scheduling factors identified by crews accounted for nine of the ten most common recommendations that crewmembers made to reduce fatigue in regional operations. The scheduling factors included: long duty days, continuous-duty overnights, reserve status, early duty report times, and the amount of time between flight legs. Many of these scheduling practices are unique to regional operations. (Co, 1999)

Another specific challenge is that regional airlines operate under various parts of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). Differing requirements among these regulations were cited as contributing to fatigue in regional operations. Other factors identified were: the flight deck environment, including high temperatures and noise; automation, including the lack of autopilot and other equipment; and diet, including dehydration and the availability of food. (Rosenthal, 1991)

The data from flight crewmembers suggested certain recommendations, including education of industry personnel about fatigue issues, and examination of scheduling practices. Education plays a critical role in any effort to address fatigue in operations. Physiological background information and practical strategies for fatigue management are two crucial topics. Educating individuals in every part of the system would maximize the benefit of this activity. Analyzing scheduling practices and identifying potential improvements may result in reduced fatigue as well as other benefits to operations. (Colquhoun, 1976)

That study was not enough, unfortunately. "The subject of flight attendant fatigue is being placed under the microscope for yet another study by the FAA. The agency's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) has now finished Phase One of its second study on flight attendant fatigue and its impact on airline safety, and will be moving into a final field study phase by mid-summer." (Nelms, 2009)

The second study was conducted to determine how bad the problem is, what the impact of fatigue is on flight safety and how it can be… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Airline Crew Fatigue an Airline Safety Program."  Essaytown.com.  March 27, 2010.  Accessed July 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/airline-crew-fatigue-safety/3155927.