More on fatigue

Cost-cutting, more revenue, increased productivity are all members of the same family, called a better bottom line for a company. An airline can cut costs by decreasing service, smaller meals, cheaper seats without affecting flight safety. When it comes to less overhaul, less fuel reserves and less pilot training it’s a different ball game. Increased profit can, without affecting flight safety, be achieved by selling lottery tickets, pay toilettes, cramping more seats in to an already overfull fuselage, and of course charging extra for just about everything.

Increased productivity can be many things also not affecting the airlines ability to provide safe passage for its customers. One productivity booster has however lately been increasingly popular. If you get pilots, and cabin crew for that matter, to work more hours for the same salary, you have a winner. Does it affect flight safety. Yes, if fatigue is introduced. Fatigue is not just being a little bit tired. Fatigue can be described at length by the medical profession and is in simple terms a state of exhaustion where the body, and more importantly the brain, does not function well. Judgement is affected and quick and rational decision are hard, if not impossible, to make.

A fatigued cabin crew member can make fatal mistakes when his or her main reason for being on board in the first place, – to lead, assist – and save – passengers during an emergency, is being challenged. A fatigued pilot can kill people, period.

All airlines have a natural desire to get as much out of their resources as possible. The competition from low-cost airlines have brought the economy in the airline industry into troubled waters. Passengers have been led to believe, that by not being asked to pay for what it really cost to fly with maximum safety, maximum safety is not affected. Maximum safety does among other things not include a pilot with micro sleep on short final during approach after 12 hour flight.

This will be discussed in more detail in coming articles. The ambition by managements to increase the number of duty hours is in some airlines fought in hard negotiations with pilot unions. In airlines with non-union pilots, most often found – no wonder – in the low-cost competition, things are different. A recent setback for the strife for this type of increased productivity was imposed by a FAA rule for a lowered maximum of working hours, but not until an accident happened. That did not come cheap. Some 50 lives were lost due to fatigue in the cockpit (incl. some pilot training issues). This will most likely – or should be – looked into some more, since the latest averted catastrophe, where an airliner almost landed on top of four other fully packe planes, was in part also blamed on fatigue.

One might wonder why pilots fly with fatigue in the first place. For starters, there is a law against it. At the beginning of a long flight, you don’t know that you might become affected. And if you become affected, your degraded judgement makes you believe you are not. And the trickiest on: being a law-abiding citizen might affect your employment status. (Figure that one out.)

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