Report Shows UK Airline Pilots Suffer Significant Fatigue

 

 
 
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Report Shows UK Airline Pilots Suffer Significant Fatigue

By Mike Mitchell
 

April 18, 2011 - The University College London (UCL), a public research university located in London, United Kingdom has recently conducted a study, led by Professor Andrew Steptoe has found that Britain's airline pilots are suffering significant fatigue. 

Their report, published last week, shows that of a sample of 492 pilots (two thirds of them Captains) 45 per cent were suffering significant fatigue. And 40 per cent found themselves having to fly more than the regulation hours at least twice a month to cope with the volume of flights.

The Civil Aviation Authority does allow these 'discretionary hours' to deal with difficult situations but they are supposed to be a rare, not regular, event. 

Disturbingly, the UCL study reveals that 'one in five pilots reported that their abilities were compromised in flight more than once a week. The study goes on 'Pilot fatigue is an acknowledged contributory risk factor to aircraft accidents.' Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) which commissioned the study, said: 

'With increasing competitiveness in the industry there was always a risk that fatigue levels would increase for pilots. This study shows that the risk is real. And our major concern is that, far from regulating to tackle this growing problem, the European Union is proposing to scrap UK regulations and replace them with more permissive rules. 

'Pilot fatigue has been causing concern around the world. In the USA and in the aftermath of the Colgan crash which killed 50 people, the authorities have acted in the last two years to reduce pilot duty hours. Yet the EU is planning to go in the opposite direction. 

'The UK's current fatigue rules are not perfect, as the UCL study shows, but they are the result of decades of scientific and medical study as well as pilots' operational experience. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sponsored research when drafting its EU rules but have then substantially ignored the scientists' recommendations.

 

'The UCL research adds to the body of evidence that indicates that the European regulator has got it wrong. We have written to the Secretary of State for Transport asking that the British Government stand up for scientifically-based flight time limitations and UK aviation safety standards and to press the European Council of Ministers to level up standards rather than joining a race to the bottom. 

'Fatigue amongst British pilots is growing, as this study shows and as our members know. UK pilots have also been giving personal testimonies about their own experience of fatigue and what it feels like to be pushed to the limits. These are enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, even under current fatigue regulations. To force them to fly still more hours is, frankly, reckless.' 

Previous studies already acknowledge that factors contributing to aircrew fatigue include irregular sleep and work patterns, causing disruption of the circadian rhythm, long duty days, early starts, night flying, multiple sectors and an expectation that pilots should regularly fly into discretionary hours. This study reinforces those concerns.

 
   
The UCL team's recommendations include better scheduling to take pressure off pilots and more transparent fatigue reporting systems. 'Airline passengers,' said Jim McAuslan, 'should be alarmed that on top of the pressures already exerted on pilots, the EU proposes to increase pilot flying hours which are dangerous.'

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