Airlines would do well to operate their crew rosters according to a well-constructed fatigue risk management system, because it beats reliance on flight time limitations for pilot productivity combined with pilot alertness, according to a just-released study conducted by Boeing.

The Boeing study, carried out by the manufacturer for the Chinese civil aviation authority CAAC, was applied to the rosters of three airlines that operate narrowbody short-haul fleets according to three different national flight time limitation rules.

Then Boeing compared the results with rosters for the same carriers run according to a scientifically based fatigue risk management system applicable to each network, and has found that fatigue risk management wins in all cases, judged according to a combined measure of pilot alertness and productivity.

The study involved a Chinese, a US and a European carrier, each operating to local flight time limitations. Boeing scored each of the rosters according to a scientifically derived system it calls the Boeing alertness model, and applied the three national sets of flight time limitations to each of the airline rosters to determine which produced the best alertness and productivity for each of the three airlines.

The US Federal Aviation Administration system tended to win on productivity in all three networks, measured by block hours produced per crew, because it has a higher maximum duty hour limit and lower minimum rest time than either of the other two.

But on crew alertness, the FAA system scored far lower than the other two, with the CAAC system in the middle and the European Union - which was lowest on productivity - scoring highest on alertness.

When the sum of productivity and crew alertness, scored according to the Boeing alertness model, is considered, the system that comes out best every time is fatigue risk management. And, according to the Boeing study, the short-haul fleet that can make the biggest gain by applying the fatigue risk management system is the US one. But the Chinese and European carriers would also make significant net gains.

Boeing's conclusion is that, at this point, fatigue risk management is not sufficiently mature to be applied without the existence of flight time limitations as a safety net, so for the time being fatigue risk management should be employed for what it calls flight time limitation refinement.

Source: Flight International