Fatigue in Aviation

Southwest airlines airplane arriving at the gate on a sunny day

Most people consider flying one of the safest ways to travel, since there is a low chance for collisions in the air, which is further reduced with a number of automated technologies that ensure a safe trip. When aviation accidents do occur, however, they are attributed to a single cause about 70% of the time: Human error. In 20% of these cases, it has been found that pilot fatigue is responsible for errors made in the air that may endanger the lives of hundreds of passengers.

A big threat to travel safety

Fatigue is a serious concern for operators of any heavy machinery, since being tired can have similar effects to reaction time as being drunk. In the air, pilots may have more passive sitting time than truck drivers or heavy equipment operators, so there is even more of a risk of falling asleep completely while in the air. One survey of the British Airline Pilots’ Association showed that 43% of its 500 members reported falling asleep involuntarily in the cockpit.

Long shifts and inadequate sleep

Pilots work long shifts, and they may have back-to-back flights with little opportunity to become rested and refreshed before taking off again. Shifts of 11-13 hours are incredibly common among commercial pilots, despite research indicating that 10 hour shift maximums can significantly drive down the risk of human error.

Possible solutions in the air

Aside from reform in pilots’ shifts and sleep practices, there may be solutions that can be implemented in the air to recognize and address pilot fatigue before errors occur. Safety solutions used for equipment operators on the ground may be adapted to the cockpit to recognize when a pilot is unfit for flight.

To explore fatigue monitoring solutions that are proven to reduce accidents and increase productivity, contact GuardVant at (520) 299-1911.