UK civil aviation regulators are stressing that operators need to encourage crews to report fatigue-related occurrences as a result of abnormal duty patterns, in order to ensure that risk-assessment models remain valid during the pandemic.
The pandemic has resulted in severe disruption to carriers’ services and forced aircraft crews to adapt rapidly to different duty cycles and changes to their environment.
“Operators should recognise that safety reporting and behaviours may have changed and seek to validate all available information and safety data,” says the UK Civil Aviation Authority in a newly-published safety notice.
It states that pilots and cabin crew should be “actively encouraged” to report occurrences relating to fatigue, and feel able to self-declare that they are potentially unfit to fly “without fear of punitive action”.
“The current methods of assessing and managing crew fatigue may require additional considerations and measures to identify and mitigate fatigue risks,” the notice adds.
It acknowledges that carriers have had to change operating practices, with some using flight-time limitation exemptions to basic flight-duty period limits and rest requirements, adding that certain operations – notably freight transport – have become busier, while quarantine and testing restrictions are limiting access to rest facilities and time spent on the ground.
“Additional strategies need to be added other than just operating within the prescriptive flight and duty time limits,” says the notice.
“Operators are encouraged to consider operational fatigue in a more holistic approach, which includes crew mental health and well-being and the potential effect of these on flight safety.”
It says operators need to focus on “core scientific principles” when developing fatigue-mitigation strategies for rostering and planning, taking into account the effects of sleep loss, circadian rhythms and the impact of workload.
Operators should also identify personnel, such as training crews, who might be working at increased rates and ensure there is sufficient support allocated to them.
Carriers which are changing their scope of operations – such as altering their mix of long- and short-haul flying – might have more fatigue-management angles to consider than those with a more constant pattern.
“The effects of the [pandemic] on fatigue in flight and cabin crew should not be underestimated,” it warns.
“Current methods of assessing and managing crew fatigue may require additional measures to identify, capture and mitigate risks resulting from the impact of the crisis on fatigue.
“Operators need to have enough flight and cabin crew, but they also need to have enough competent office-based personnel to carry out the necessary support activities for effective operational fatigue management.”