WATS 2011: Maintenance industry calls for action on fatigue

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A group of 30 government, industry and academia officials is calling for a broad slate of fatigue countermeasures to be implemented in US maintenance organizations.

The recommendations - to be published by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on 13 May - were the outcome of a two-day meeting in March, weeks before allegations of air traffic controllers falling asleep on late night shifts began making headlines.

"The [aviation] industry really doesn't have a culture at the organizational, individual, or governmental level to really approach the challenge that fatigue puts on all of us, whether in the cabin, on the flight deck, in maintenance or in air traffic control," says Bill Johnson, the FAA's chief scientific and technical advisor for human factors in aircraft maintenance systems. Johnson made the comments at the World Aviation Training (WATS) conference and tradeshow in Orlando, Florida on 19 April. "We've got a long way to go as an industry, but so do nuclear plants, the trucking industry and others."

Priorities deemed important by the participants in the study included better promoting of fatigue risk information and education, implementing service hour limits for mechanics, requiring fatigue risk management systems, integrated safety management systems (SMS) and fatigue risk management strategies (FRMS).

After a similar study in 2010, another group of 30 experts decided to attempt to promulgate rules. "At that time, we decided to tie a maintenance fatigue rule to a flight crew fatigue rule. My how naïve we were," says Johnson. "That just isn't going to happen. Pilot fatigue, and recently, air traffic controller fatigue, is really on the fast track to get something accomplished."

Maintenance is on a slower track because there has not been a "root cause analysis" that shows maintenance fatigue as the cause of "a major event in aviation", says Johnson. This despite work rules that he calls "unbelievably minimal".

Johnson notes that a maintainer in the US could legally work 24 hours per day, seven days a week for 56 consecutive days, compared to China, for example, where workers can stay on the job no longer than eight hours without approved overtime.

He says he supports the regulations and rationale proffered by the non-government International Federation of Airworthiness, which calls for no more than 12 hours of scheduled work or 16 hour with overtime, or no more than 288 hours per month.