Term Paper: Pilot Fatigue

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Pilot Fatigue Analysis

Because pilots are just humans, they are prone to the same types of physical limitations that the rest of humanity, but the level of trust and responsibility assigned to these individuals makes their jobs that much more critical to many other people. When pilots become tired, they are more likely to make mistakes or even to fall asleep - both of which are unacceptable for anyone seeking to pilot an aircraft safety. This study examines how pilots are affected by fatigue in aviation and how this can lead to accidents. This analysis is important because as Garland, Hopkin and Wise (1999) emphasize, for pilots, "Fatigue is a proven killer" (p. 77). According to Deitz and Thoms (1991), "Fatigue, whether chronic or acute, can affect a pilot's ability to concentrate on the complex tasks associated with flying. Fatigue may be caused by emotional stress, lack of sleep, or poor physical health" (p. 8). In reality, though, the research will show that pilot fatigue can be caused by some other, less readily identifiable, sources as well. To this end, a review of the peer-reviewed, scholarly and popular literature concerning pilot fatigue is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

According to Doyle (2002), fatigue typically manifests itself in three main forms: (a) sleepiness (this occurs naturally after people have been awake for about 16 hours), (b) physical fatigue (following periods of physical activity) and (b) mental fatigue (which follows prolonged effort on a demanding cognitive task). Moreover, many pilots today fly routes that last 16 hours or more (Fusco, 2000). A report from the Federal Aviation Administration found pilots that had 10 to 12 hours flight duty schedules were twice as likely to have an accident as those with under 10 hours; moreover, pilots that worked 13 hours or more were almost six times more likely to be involved in a crash (Pilots' warning over long hours proposal, 2004). The importance of pilot fatigue to the traveling public was the subject of an essay by Tessier (1999), wherein she reports, "Aviation is an industry that touches about 50 million travelers each year.... Yet few news organizations are doing regular reporting on safety issues. With crashes of commercial jets happening at a rate of about one each week worldwide, and air travel on course to double in about fifteen years, aviation is more than ever an important subject" (p. 29). According to Peters (2000), the National Transportation Safety Board has ranked pilot fatigue among the top 10 of airline safety problems for more than a decade now, and the FAA has rules in place that are intended to ensure that planes are not flown by exhausted crews; however, "those rules have never been enforced [by the FAA] since their inception" (Peters, 2000, p. 4).

When many people think of becoming fatigued, the cause usually relates to simply becoming physically tired for whatever reason, but the research quickly shows that pilots are subjected to a wide range of conditions that are unique to the profession (Doyle, 2002; Ward, 2004). For example, according to Garland and his colleagues (1999), pilot experiences during World War II suggest that noise and even vibrations can contribute to pilot fatigue. Likewise, Ward (2004) points out that pilots during World War II could become fatigued because of the very nature of their jobs and the types of aircraft involved: "Once in the air and on course the flight would be comparatively uneventful, and the flight crew's job quite monotonous. Add to this the cold, the time of night, and the relentless drone of the engines and you have a recipe for disaster. Not unlike modern long-distance lorry [truck] drivers, there was a real danger of pilot fatigue" (Ward, 2004, p. 25). During the latter half of the 20th century, newer and more sophisticated aircraft would eliminate these potential sources of pilot fatigue but introduced some new ones in the process. For example, "The introduction of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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