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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
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Circadian rhythm, Sleep, Fatigue, Shift work, Jet lag, Melatonin, Pilot fatigue, Shift work sleep disorder
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