Term Paper: Fatigue in Aviation

Pages: 5 (1574 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Transportation  ·  Buy This Paper

Aviation

Effects of Fatigue in Aviation

Fatigue may affect many aspects in an individual's life, especially a person whose livelihood is in aviation. Medical experts have called fatigue by other names such as exhaustion, lethargy, languidness, languor, lassitude, and listlessness (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003). No matter what name the condition is called, fatigue is usually described as a state of awareness associated with physical or mental weakness (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003). Medical experts describe physical fatigue as a time when an individual cannot function up to his or her capability; mental fatigue is manifested in a period of somnolence or sleepiness (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003). Medically speaking fatigue is a symptom because the patient often reports the condition to a doctor as opposed to others observing the behavior as a medical sign. Fatigue is more commonly referred to as a physiological reaction to the lack of sleep, boredom, altered sleep schedules, or stressful activities (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003).

Fatigue may manifest itself as a major concern in many fields, but none more than in transportation. In the area of transportation fatigue can result in disastrous accidents because it negatively affects the human operator's internal state of mind. Researchers have spent considerable time and money focusing on pilots, drivers, and shift workers (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003). Much of the research performed by the National Transportation Safety Board consistently demonstrates that fatigue is a massive problem in aviation safety (2011). Fatigue results in pilot error that can lead to delayed responses and incorrect actions in emergency situations (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003). The National Transportation Safety Board has also documented 10 major airline crashes caused by fatigue since 1993 that have resulted in 260 casualties (2011). The research documented in this argumentative essay will discuss the causes of fatigue (including symptoms and risk factors), how fatigue affects pilots in flight, the past effects of fatigue on aviation, past and present ways airlines schedule flights, cockpit upgrades to improve conditions, and recommendations to improve the problem.

Causes of Fatigue: Symptoms and Risk Factors

According to medical doctor G.J. Salazar "Fatigue is a condition characterized by increased discomfort with lessened capacity for work, reduced efficiency of accomplishment, loss of power or capacity to respond to stimulation, and is usually accompanied by a feeling of weariness and tiredness" (2007). Fatigue may be caused by many reasons including lack of sleep, stress, anxiety, poor health (Salazar, 2007). Another reason noted by researchers is that an individual may experience a disruption in circadian rhythm; this is the internal clock that tells a person he or she should be awake and working when it is daylight and sleeping when it is dark outside (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003).

When an individual is experiencing fatigue, he or she may demonstrate different symptoms. The symptoms of a person who is fatigued are increased reaction time, decreased situational awareness, issues with concentration, short-term memory loss, impaired judgment, distractibility, depression, personality changes, and reduced visual perception (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003). Below are several risk factors that may cause an individual to become fatigued.

Risk Factors

Extended work or an extended commuting schedule

Split shift work schedules

Sleep/Work periods conflicting with the circadian rhythm

Changing or rotating work schedules

Unpredictable work schedules

Lack of rest or nap periods during work

Sleep disruption

Inadequate exercise opportunities and poor diet

Environmental stressors.

Personal issues such as a death in the family, divorce, birth of child, financial stress

A "second" job

How Fatigue Affects Pilots in Flight

Fatigue has a negative effect on any person's ability to perform a task, and this is heightened on the pilots (Salazar, 2007). Long days of prolonged mental stimulation or processing important data can cause as much fatigue as manual labor (Salazar, 2007). Fatigue may cause a pilot to experience bleary vision and a headache, these symptoms of fatigue would lead to a decrease in performance in flying the aircraft. According to Salazar "general aviation pilots are typically not exposed to the same occupational stressors as commercial pilots i.e., long days, circadian disruptions from night flying or time zone changes, or scheduling changes" (2007, p. 3). Salazar also reports that single-pilot flights led to an increased workload that may cause more accidents because of fatigue (2007). A key finding of Salazar's research is that "fatigued individuals consistently underreported how tired they really were," and this may lead to a mistake by the pilot because he or she would not "realize the extent of actual impairment" (2007, p. 3). Medical experts and sleep studies have demonstrated that experience, motivation, medication for alertness, coffee, and other sources of caffeine cannot overcome fatigue.

Past Effects of Fatigue on Aviation

In the past pilots tried to fight off fatigue in a variety of ways. Studies performed in the past have demonstrated that one size fits all does not work in aviation. Air carriers operate in different ways and if more regulations are added it may cause more confusion and organizational difficulty than in the past (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003). In the past, airline companies have instructed pilots on the dangers that drugs and alcohol have on an individual's performance; presently it may be important to add the dangers of flying without adequate rest to the training regimen (Caldwell & Caldwell, 2003). Society operated at a much slower pace before the advent of modern technology such as the computer and the Internet. With modern technological advances society operates at a 24-hour a day pace that can restrict individuals in allocating enough time for sleep. A modern globalized society has changed the way people and businesses interact with each other; pilots are a part of this shift in daily life activities and must learn to prioritize time to find sleep to avoid fatigue on the job.

How Airlines Schedule Flights

Historically the way airlines have scheduled flights has been regulated by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA takes into consideration several important factors such as time since awake, time on task, extension of normal duty periods, and cumulative duty periods before enacting specific flight and rest rules for scheduling purposes of pilots and crewmembers (2011). The FAA posts the flying regulations under U.S. Code Title 14, part 121.471, and the regulations are as follows (2011):

United States Federal Aviation Administration

Flight and Rest Rules

Cockpit Upgrades to Improve Conditions

Over the past few years companies such as Boeing, Honeywell, and Rockwell Collins have designed cockpit devices to improve safety and better to aid the pilot. Boeing has worked with the United States Air Force in creating a KC-10 device that will improve pilot awareness, help streamline tasks, and enhance safety in a high tech environment (van Leeuwen, 2009). Honeywell has created a Primus Epic CDS/R to enhance the pilot's situational awareness, enable strategic route planning, and offer the crew an enhanced electronic set of charts, maps, and a geographical weather device (Duncan Aviation, 2009). Rockwell Collins has introduced the Pro-Line 21 Retrofit that is aimed to reduce the pilot's workload, increase the situational awareness, increase its use of displays, and offers a newer auto-pilot function with enhanced radio communication (Duncan Aviation, 2009). The three companies believe that with their upgrades it is important to improve the safety in the cockpit, and attempt to and make the pilot's job easier in the process. Improved technological options may be a new alternative to help in the continued struggles with human error caused through fatigue of the pilot.

Conclusion- Recommendations

In short, individuals in every walk of life are susceptible to fatigue. The field of aviation must make an attempt to establish preventative measures to combat fatigue. Problems are often ignored or overlooked until an incident occurs. It is of utmost importance for pilots and aviation employees and employers to recognize the role fatigue may play in accidents.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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