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FAA issues safety alert on short-haul pilot fatigue

The US FAA has issued a safety alert calling on airlines and air taxi operators to review their existing policies and procedures aimed at preventing flight crew fatigue for short-haul flights.

The interim action occurs as the agency mulls potential pilot rest rule changes developed by an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC). Efforts to overhaul the decades-old rules gained traction in June after pilot fatigue was identified as a potential factor in the February crash of a Colgan Air Q400 commuter aircraft.

"Short-haul pilots commonly identify sleep deprivation and high workload as the main factors contributing to their fatigue. Conversely, long-haul pilots generally attribute sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm disruption caused by multiple time-zone crossings as the main causes of fatigue," says the FAA in the alert. "However, both short-haul and long-haul flight crewmembers report fatigue resulting from multiple flight legs, early wake times, consecutive duty days, insufficient recovery sleep periods, time demands and high workloads resulting from high density air traffic environments."

A typical day for a short-haul pilot consists of four-to-five flight segments, averaging approximately 6h of flight time, with duty days lasting 13-15h, says the FAA. The agency says that while "sleep loss" is a primary contributor to fatigue, hours-long wait times between flights also contributes.

"Certificate holders should consider providing crew rest facilities that have rooms away from the general traffic for quiet, comfortable and uninterrupted sleep as well as expedited transportation to and from the airport in the layover city," says the FAA.

The agency says airlines and air taxi operators should establish "effective rest enhancing prerequisites for layover city hotels" as well as encourage the use of crew rest facilities between flights to "counter the effects of cumulative fatigue".

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