Pilots' Group Stresses Crew Fatigue As A Major Issue
The Allied Pilots Association (APA) says reducing pilot
fatigue to enhance safety should be a major concern as the FAA
reviews recommendations from an airline industry stakeholder group
convened to review flight- and duty-time regulations.
“Pilot fatigue remains the one of the gravest threats to
aviation safety, as we have unfortunately seen in recent tragedies
such as the Colgan Air accident in Buffalo, New York this past
February,” said APA President Captain Lloyd Hill.
“Accordingly, we urge policymakers to keep the goal of
reducing pilot fatigue foremost in mind as they consider the
recommendations of the Aviation Rulemaking Committee.
“Any increase in the amount of time pilots are scheduled
to be at the controls in a given duty day will only serve to
exacerbate pilot fatigue,” Hill said.
The FAA convened an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) in July
comprised of labor, industry and government representatives and
tasked the participants with conducting a comprehensive review of
current flight-time and duty-time regulations. An APA
representative was among the ARC’s participants.
Hill cited the importance of “planning for the
worst” as airline industry regulators assess the ARC’s
“Sometimes what may sound like a reasonable plan within
the confines of a conference room just isn’t suitable for the
unforgiving world of commercial aviation, where split-second
decisions can make the difference between life and death,”
Hill said. “There’s no substitute for well-rested,
properly trained pilots at the controls when something goes wrong,
as the ‘miracle on the Hudson’ illustrated so
dramatically. Conversely, when a crew that for whatever reason is
not capable of peak performance finds itself in a challenging
situation, common sense tells you that the risk of an adverse
outcome increases considerably.”
Hill noted that the specific demands of the airline pilot
profession contribute to fatigue. These demands include circadian
rhythm disruption and back-side-of-the-clock operations; dealing
with high-traffic environments, mountainous terrain and inclement
weather; communicating with foreign air traffic controllers with
limited English-speaking skills; and pressurized, recirculated
cabin air. Other unique stresses that can exacerbate fatigue
include pilots’ limited control over their schedules for
meals, rest breaks, bathroom usage and other basic physiological
functions. Also, he cautioned pilots who may view the prospect of
fewer total workdays each month as an acceptable tradeoff for
increased flight time per duty day.
“No rational individual would argue that permitting
airlines to schedule pilots for more time at the controls will
increase the margin of safety,” Hill said. “This review
of longstanding safety-related regulations should not be about
accommodating lifestyle preferences or airline management’s
endless quest for greater employee productivity. The goal of any
regulatory change in our industry should be to enhance
In its investigations of several fatal airline accidents in
recent years, the NTSB has repeatedly warned of the dangers of
pilot fatigue. Reducing accidents and incidents caused by pilot
fatigue is one of the priorities on the NTSB’s “most
wanted” list of transportation safety improvements.
APA is the certified collective bargaining agent for the 11,500
pilots of American Airlines.