NTSB Targets Scheduling, Sleep Apnea

 - August 13, 2009, 11:57 AM

The Feb. 13, 2008, incident in which both pilots fell asleep at the controls of a Go! Bombardier regional jet en route to Hilo, Hawaii, was caused by “the captain and first officer inadvertently falling asleep during the cruise phase of flight,” the Board noted. Luckily, the RJ carried extra fuel for a return trip to Honolulu, and the pilots woke up after flying 26 miles past Hilo. Contributing factors included “the captain’s undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and the flight crew’s recent work schedules, which included several consecutive days of early-morning start times.” Commercial pilots who suffer from OSA are significantly under-diagnosed, according to the NTSB, which recommended that the FAA develop guidance for pilots, employers and physicians on how to identify and treat people at high risk of OSA. The risks of fatigue during consecutive early-morning, short-haul multi-segment flights need more research and guidance provided to operators as new information becomes available, the NTSB said. Operators should incorporate this guidance into their operating specifications, the NTSB recommended.