Flying Tired

This essay has a total of 2901 words and 15 pages.

flying tired


Pilots today are working in a 24-hour a day industry. The potential for error when working during the night is higher than working during the day. Humans have an internal clock that prefers you sleep at night; so working at night is a valid safety issue. Pilots today should be considered as shift workers, their schedules can be from early morning one day until the early morning of the next day and any combination in between. The fact that they deal with weather and operational delays can extend their workday by many hours. Many pilots also are flying through different time zones and can end up starting work as the sun rises and then finishing up just in time to get to bed when the sun is rising at the destination time zone. This creates a problem for the body, which resists sleep during the day light hours.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has put regulations on the aviation operators who schedule pilots in an attempt to allow adequate rest for them. Over the last 40 years we have learned much through scientific studies, which have shown that the actual time off required by the regulations, may not allow the proper sleep needed to prevent fatigue. Fortunately the studies have given many helpful strategies for pilots to be self-disciplined, which will reduce the fatigue and increase the quality of sleep obtained.

Night Flying; Shift work for pilots

The typical 9:00 to 5:00 workday does not apply to most pilots. Today most of the activities people are engaged in are conducted during daylight hours, whether it is business or social engagements, the reason is, that is how we are designed. The typical person will sleep during the night hours. As with many transportation modes flying is among the ones conducted at night. Though most commercial passenger flights are between 6:00 am and 11:00 PM, the work required to accomplish this is a 24-hour business. For example a pilot having a 6:00 am departure will need to wake-up as early as 3:00 am to make the flight. A pilot who wakes at 3:00 am will have one hour to shower, have a couple of cups of coffee, pack for the trip, and accomplish all the other normal activities prior to leaving for work. This would allow one hour for the drive or commute to work. The hour needed for the drive to work would obviously vary depending on your home location, but the majority of pilots work in larger city’s that will have a heavier traffic level, as in the Los Angeles area where gridlock and bumper-to-bumper traffic is generally experienced on the 405 Highway at 4:00am. You would also need to plan for at least a 10-minute time frame to park and walk to the flight area. This would put you at work 1 hour before take-off time, which is normally required of commercial pilots.
Although flying commercial passengers still requires you to awake early it is nothing compared to flying freight, which is conducted almost entirely at night. For example think about Fed Ex, they have delivery people picking packages up all day long and eventually transport it to the airport in the early evenings at which time the flight transports it to the next city where the drivers load their truck for the days deliveries. As a result most freight flying activities are done during night hours.
Though pilots can work various shifts we will break them down to the three most common. The first one will be the day shift say from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, the second one will be the night shift commonly from 4:00 pm to midnight, and the last one we will call the graveyard shift from midnight to 8:00 am. Nychthemeral it the term used for a combination shift of both day and night. Most common night and graveyard shifts fall into this category, (Akerstedt, 1989).
Pilots not only must contend with the required shift-work times, they must also take into consideration a couple of other factors they face. One is that pilots must be able to extend their work time for weather and other delays common to aviation. Another factor is that they do work in a safety sensitive industry and must have a constant level of alertness.

Problems of Night flying (Shift Work)

So what’s so bad about flying at night? You can just sleep during the day. The air is smoother, its not as crowded, and you generally won’t have to deal with passengers. This is the common attitude with many traditional people that work the day shift. The problem is that humans were designed to sleep at night. We have internal clocks that regulate our bodies the, Circadian Clock. This clock is a natural and physical system for the body that affects the body temperature, hormones, and heart rate. This clock is linked to light and darkness so attempting to fight it is an attempt to fight Mother Nature.
When we sleep we recharge our batteries, when the body experiences a loss of or lack of sleep it will begin to show signs of physical problems. The most detrimental being fatigue, which will result in decreased performance, mood changes, alertness, and errors, which can be deadly when operating an aircraft. Figure A, shows the time of day when you have the highest level of alertness, generally in the morning and early evening hours. Though many of us have stayed up for over 24 hours, for most people your body will simply shut down when it gets to tired. A poll done by the National Sleep Foundation found that 65% of people don’t get enough sleep. As a result of this lack of sleep they estimate $18 billion dollars is lost each year in U. S. businesses (National, 1999).

Sleep Studies

NASA Ames Research Center conducted a study to determine the effects of fatigue, sleep loss and circadian disruption in flight crews. The study was in response to a request from Congress, which wanted to know if there was a safety problem in air transportation due to fatigue. The research started in 1980 and continues today with involvement and support from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), pilot unions as well as other organizations and individuals such as pilots. Two studies in particular will be of interest here, Short-Haul Commercial Operations and Long-Haul Operations. The results come from a collection of many studies and over 500 pilots. (Fatigue, 1998)

Short Haul Study

Short haul commercial operations study consisted of operations of less than eight hour flight legs, see average perimeters in Appendix A. The study showed that pilots who had night flights needed a longer time to fall asleep as well as waking up earlier. It also showed that fatigue was higher during the trip than what was experienced before the trip or after the trip. Not surprising the study also showed an increase in the consumption of caffeine compared to before and after the trip. The increase in caffeine was used to maintain alertness during flight operations. The average serving of alcohol was also higher during the trip,’ presumably to “Spin Down” after a long duty day’, (Fatigue, 1998). Due to the effects of alcohol and sleep they suggest the use of alternative approaches to help unwind after duty times, relaxation techniques could be substituted for alcohol consumption.
The study also showed that the actual duty time was double that of the flight time and that the 1/3 of the duty times lasted over 12 hours. This will help to realize the importance of duty time other than that of the actual flight time. It points out the need to take into consideration the prep time needed to conduct a flight. The study concludes that the limitations on duty time should be limited as well as the actual flight times. It also showed the effects of earlier duty times on successive trip days to be a problem due to the fact that it interrupted the normal sleep time needed. This caused an interruption of the internal clock and prevented the body from catching up on sleep. The study recommends that when scheduling successive trips to have the duty start times stay constant or be progressively later to allow complete circadian sleep. (Fatigue, 1998)

Long Haul Study

Long haul commercial operations consisted of flights over eight hours. See Appendix B for the study perimeters. The average duty times were 10.3 hours followed by 24.8 hours of layover time. The layover times produced two sleep periods with the average time being 19 hours awake then 5.7 hours of sleep followed by 7.4 hours awake an

Read essay without registering

Donate an essay now and get the full essay emailed you

Acceptable files: .txt, .doc, .docx, .rtf

Email Address