When I heard about that North West Airlines flight that bypassed the Minneapolis airport and kept on going…for another 150 miles, two thoughts immediately flashed through my mind:
1. What if they didn’t have enough fuel?
2. Pilot Fatigue?
Now those pilots say they were having a “heated discussion” about airline policy. Some people think they were sleeping. Whatever they were doing, that was scary!
I’ve been really afraid of flying since Lockerbie, because I was in London, and had just passed through Frankfurt around that time. Since then, airplane crashes and near misses have only reinforced my fear.
Hearing about that incident where pilots, TWO pilots, just let the plane fly itself to wherever on a straight line is not very reassuring.
I decided to look into Pilot Fatigue…and found a report from NASA (America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration). The NASA report outlines the findings from a study the agency did on pilot fatigue and its implications for aviation safety.
The Deputy Associate Administrator in the Office of Aero-Space Technology at NASA testified at a Congressional Hearing on Pilot Fatigue in August, 1999. 10 Years ago!
He told the Aviation Subcommittee of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, United States House of Representatives, that Pilot Fatigue is a significant safety issue in aviation.
He testified that: “Rather than simply being a mental state that can be willed away or overcome through motivation or discipline, fatigue is rooted in physiological mechanisms related to sleep, sleep loss, and circadian rhythms. These mechanisms are at work in flight crews no less than others who need to remain vigilant despite long duty days, transmeridien travel, and working at night when the body is programmed for sleep”.
According to the NASA official: “Flight crews routinely respond that fatigue is a concern, often admitting to having nodded off during a flight and/or arranging for one pilot to nap in the cockpit seat”.
• The crewmembers napped one-at-a-time in a three-person cockpit with minimal disruption to normal flight operations and no reported or identified concerns regarding safety. The benefits of the nap were observed throughout the critical descent and landing phases of flight. The planned nap appeared to provide effective and acute relief from significant sleepiness experienced by crews in three-person nonaugmented flight operations.
• He told Congres: The Fatigue Countermeasures Program submitted a draft advisory circular to the FAA in January 1993 on “Controlled Rest on the Flight Deck.” Regulatory provisions that would sanction the appropriate use of planned cockpit rest remain under review. Several non-U.S. air carriers have already implemented the procedure.
Congress apparently asked NASA to conduct the Study. NASA’s Ames Research Center created a program to examine whether “there is a safety problem of uncertain magnitude, due to transmeridian flying and a potential problem due to fatigue in association with various factors found in air transport operations.”
Researchers came up with a number of recommendations and countermeasures to address Pilot Fatigue in the cockpit.
Is anyone (Sixty Minutes, Oprah?) asking if the FAA implemented those measures and how many US CARRIERS HAVE SIGNED ON?
Do I have to stop blogging and go do some investigative journalism (which I was trained to do)? I’m sleeping – blogging is much easier! Just like Networks/Media Outlets are sleeping – because it’s also much easier to hire bloviates who promulgate spin, opinion and bull – instead of dealing with FACTS – which by the way are inconvenient things!
If they were indeed arguing, or “heatedly discussing” – maybe those two should NOT work together anymore? Please argue while having a drink (preferably orange juice) at a club – NOT up in the air where it causes you to go 150 miles off course.
I also found this article that appeared in USA TODAY in JUNE. 2009.
Airlines, pilot unions and federal officials have until September first to develop new rules to limit fatigue among pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday in an unusually aggressive move to reach agreement on one of the industry’s most contentious safety issues.
The National Transportation Safety Board has cited fatigue as a factor in several recent crashes, including a February crash near Buffalo that killed 50 people.
The board revealed last month that both pilots on that flight had not gotten a full night’s sleep before the accident.
The NTSB lists combating fatigue as one of its “Most Wanted” safety improvements.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt called on airlines and pilot unions to begin meeting with federal officials by July 15 to come up with recommendations on how long pilots can work each day.
The committee will have until September to present their findings, Babbitt said in a news release. “Now is the time to push these initiatives forward,” he said.
An effort to get unions and airlines to reach a compromise in the 1990s failed, leaving 50-year-old rules that scientists who study fatigue say do little to promote safety.
Under current rules, pilots generally can fly up to eight hours a day. Their workday, which includes time on the ground between flights, can extend up to 16 hours. There are no restrictions on flying during the middle of the night or making numerous takeoffs and landings.
Curtis Graeber, a scientist who has studied pilot fatigue for nearly 30 years, said that research can better predict how long pilots should work than simple hourly limits.
Factors such as how many days in a row a pilot has worked and whether rest periods allow for a good night’s sleep should be used to limit flying time, Graeber said.
Airlines in Europe, Australia and New Zealand have begun adopting such rules. Graeber said he is not hopeful that the groups can reach agreement in this country.
“Getting that kind of consensus has proved challenging in the past,” he said.
Pilots have rejected attempts to extend the amount of time they can fly and airlines oppose changes that would restrict scheduling.
Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association say they support the government’s effort.
DO YOU NOTE THE SENTENCE BEFORE THE LAST? > Pilots have rejected attempts to extend the amount of time they can fly and airlines oppose changes that would restrict scheduling.
Why not just put a squadron of fighter jets on standby – to escort runaway planes…and bill the airlines/Pilots Union?!
That would get somebody’s attention!
(Please remember: I’m ONLY posting on SUNDAY’S now, due to other commitments).