India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has announced support for periods of controlled cockpit rest for pilots. In an August 15 operations circular, the DGCA calls the naps, which are to be allowed on flights of at least three hours, “effective fatigue mitigation tools.”
Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool
Humans, by our very nature, are daytime creatures. Our brains and our bodies have been hardwired for this, and not even the fairly recent (in evolutionary terms) innovation of artificial light can change hundreds of thousands of years of development. In response to darkness, our brains produce a chemical known as melatonin, which makes us sleepy, yet these days we are far removed from the agrarian “get up when it’s light out, go to bed when it’s dark” lifestyle of just a few centuries ago.
The FAA yesterday issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) that addresses pilot fatigue countermeasures in Part 121 and 135 short-haul operations, though the information is also pertinent to Part 91, 91K fractional and 135 on-demand charter operators.
The NTSB cited three accidents and an incident involving regional airlines as the basis for a pair of recommendations to the FAA related to pilot fatigue last month. The Board called on the FAA to develop guidance for operators to establish “fatigue management systems” and methodology to assess their effectiveness, including their ability to improve sleep and alertness, mitigate performance errors and prevent incidents and accidents.
The FAA today wrapped up its first symposium focused specifically on managing fatigue in aviation.
The Centre for Human Sciences at British aerospace and defense research group Qinetiq has developed software that it says can assess and predict crew fatigue for any given set of flight operations. The system for aircrew fatigue evaluation (Safe) has been produced with the support of the UK Civil Aviation Authority and is now undergoing operational evaluation by the agency and several leading airlines.
Flight operations are fertile grounds for fatigue, sleep deficit and circadian disruption, and these physiological factors can result in decreased flight-deck performance and alertness–in other words ingredients for an accident.