Pilot fatigue: the invisible killer is paraded for all to see

Pilots are conducting a day of action to draw attention to their concern that a scientific study saying European flight time limitations (FTL) regulations are unsafe may be ignored.

The European Cockpit Association says the report, commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency, proves that existing regulations, at their extremes, are actually dangerous because of the length of duty periods that they allow.

It is a fact that fatigue in humans has the same effects on mental reasoning and physical coordination as alcohol does.

A pilot may not be able to get away with flying when drunk, but he/she can legally get away with flying when fatigued because it cannot be proven by blood testing. For the same reason, an airline cannot be legally challenged for rostering a pilot to fly when he/she is actually fatigued, as long as the airline abides by the flight time limitations (FTL) regulations. So FTL limits do matter, because they are the only defence against an airline that wishes to push its luck. Most don’t, but many do.

Crossair-crash.jpg Fatigue was cited as a causal factor in this 24 November 2001 Crossair crash on approach to Zurich airport. Of the 33 on board, 24 were killed 


This is not, however, a matter to be argued in law courts, it’s a matter of common sense. But in this case it’s also a matter of science. The European Commission required EASA to submit the existing FTL rules to independent scientific analysis.

Obediently, EASA did just what it was told, and the scientists duly reported to the Agency.  

Now, the pilots fear, the report has been put on a shelf and it is being allowed to die.

Meanwhile the airlines have been frantically lobbying against any amendments to the FTLs that might take into account the scientific report’s findings. The Association of European Airlines (AEA) claims the report is flawed. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? Airlines have never liked FTLs of any kind.

EASA says the pilots are being premature, and that it has no intention of dropping its review of the FTLs, but that consultation with all parties followed by framing the final law will take until 2011.

The pilots are right to keep this process highly visible, however. They know that any proposed legislation against which there is a powerful lobby - like that of the AEA - has a habit of sinking without trace, especially when the issue is a human condition that cannot be measured after the event. 


2 Responses to Pilot fatigue: the invisible killer is paraded for all to see

  1. flyer1 13 October, 2009 at 11:46 pm #

    Dear Mr Learmount,
    There has been a study made of Metabolic Measurment of Mental effort quite recently by Stephen H. Fairclough, and Kim Huston. This was studied at the John Moores University Liverpool.Not wanting to go to deep with the measurments and graphs, the tests involved the metabolic measure of Blood Glucose of mental effort.Twenty nine people were exposed to Stroop Stimuli for a 45 min period, the results indicated that Blood Glucose levels were Sensitive to both Stroop and time-on-task variables.
    So for a laymen like me, they took some blood, tested it, and found that the glucose had changed, due to the mental work load. The employers of the pilots will want to squeeze every last second out of them.I dont think that many of the Airlines give much thought about safety, be it on the flight deck, cabin, or any where else, it all comes down to the last buck.It is reasonable to say that the fatigue issue works both ways,the Airlines have to respect the pilots work load, and the pilots reporting for duty rested, and fit enough to do the job.But be it fatigue or any other safety concern, the authority that make and govern all aviation laws, and directives, do NOT police them.Is the control of aviation becoming sloppy?

  2. Amber Markham 21 October, 2009 at 1:56 pm #

    I have a fix for pilot fatigue, it’s not new information , but has yet to be applied to the aviation industry. For a copy of the white paper, including complete references please email a_markham@hotmail.com.
    To read the article follow the link below.


    Amber Markham
    Air Traffic Controller