Almost all regional pilots are seriously fatigued

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An extensive survey of regional airline pilots, mostly in the USA but also in many other countries, has revealed that more than 96% regularly fly in a fatigued state.

US company Alertness and Performance Management (APM) presented the findings at the recent Flight Safety Foundation European Aviation Safety Seminar in Lisbon, held jointly with the European Regions Airline Association and Eurocontrol.

APM summarises the general findings, gleaned from the 1,359 responses, as follows: "The lifestyle of the regional airline pilot is characterised by low pay, long duty days, early morning departures, late night arrivals, short layovers/overnights, multiple take-offs and landings per duty period...these pilots are generally younger than their major airline counterparts [see pie chart], and have young, growing families."

The company says there is a dire need for airlines to apply fatigue risk management, and most pilots say they want it, but the carriers' sole guideline is national flight time limitations regulation, and sometimes union agreements.

The survey found that more than 28% of the regional airline pilots reported they have another job, in addition to flying, to boost their earnings. Some 41% commute from home to their base for the start of duty periods, many by air.

Duty days average 8-12h for 70.4% of respondents, but 25.1% report an average for the six months of more than 12h/duty day. Some 40% of them flew 400h or more in the last six months, and 73% of all reported flights are less than 2h flying time, which suggests a high proportion of multiple-sector days.

Among the respondents, 58% were co-pilots and 42% captains, 76% of respondent pilots fly jet aircraft, and 33% have 3,000h or fewer in their logbooks.

Lack of roster predictability is a major source of stress for pilots. Monthly rosters are presented to nearly half the pilots less than a week before the month begins, and 3.3% are not provided with a schedule. A significant proportion - 15% of respondents - are "required" to be "available" and contactable when off-duty.

APM found that nearly half the companies (48%) called the pilots when off duty at least twice during the last six months, and some had been called as many as five times.

Overnight rest times vary. Some 73% report that they normally get 10h or more off between duties, but 26.5% said they get fewer than 10h. Pilots all report that, when overnighting away from base, their rest time is deemed to begin 30min after landing, but it would be more realistic for it to begin at hotel check-in.

More than half the pilots say it takes over 60min to get to sleep at the hotel, with 71.3% saying they use television to help them relax before sleep, with 14.2% taking sleep medication and 13.8% admitting they resort to alcohol.

Most pilots report waking once at night, and a quarter twice. When they have an early start, 76.7% say they worry about sleeping through the wake-up call, and 38.4% say they have reported late for duty in the past six months because of sleeping through it. Discipline for late duty arrival affected 18.3% of reporting pilots.

Nearly 60% of pilots said they believed they would face discipline if they declared themselves too fatigued to report for duty, and 96.7% said they frequently feel fatigued on final approach at the end of a duty day.