segunda-feira, 12 de outubro de 2009

Pilots napping in the cockpit - getting beyond their control

"My eyelids on slow motion closure sounded on my head like those cartoon cats napping"
"The instruments panel fade in and out".

Pilots, Airlines Push For Nap Time

FAA rules on how many hours an airline pilot may fly or be on duty before he must rest have been virtually unchanged for nearly a half-century. If airlines had to allow their crews more rest, they would have to hire more crews.

The practice of catching a nap while serving on the flight deck is not currently approved by the FAA, but citing supporting evidence, pilot unions and airlines say it may be time for the FAA to embrace the idea. British Airways, Qantas and others have for some years allowed one pilot to sleep during the cruise portion of some flights and some studies indicate it makes crew more alert during critical phases of flight. "It may seem counterintuitive to folks in the back of the plane, but it's the right thing to do," Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, told The Wall Street Journal. Besides, pilots do nap en route, according to a recent survey of commuter pilots referenced by the Journal, which also stated simply that "pilots say naps not only make sense, but that they also already take them." And fatigue has long been among the top concerns of aviation safety authorities, having been cited as a contributing factor in more than 250 aviation fatalities since 1990.

The strategies supported by the airlines and unions are referred to as controlled napping, and are seen as fatigue-mitigation strategies. Public perception is cited as the biggest obstacle in implementing those strategies. The balance of safety, profitability and work rules makes the issue complex. The FAA is expected to review crew rest rules, and napping is expected to be part of the conversation if not the final regulations.

Crowded skies and exhausted pilots are a bad mix, the airline industry and pilot unions agree, but they're struggling over what to do about it.

"We have many experiences of the flight crew, the cabin crew, who in cases of emergency were just so numb they couldn't respond instantly to a tragedy at hand."

Corporate Airlines Flight 5966 was preparing to land on Oct. 19, 2004, when the twin-engine turboprop slammed into trees. The pilots and 11 passengers were killed. Two injured passengers survived by jumping from the plane moments before it was engulfed in flames.

The NTSB said the pilots failed to notice that their plane had descended too quickly because they didn't follow procedures and engaged in unprofessional cockpit banter. But the board also said the captain and first officer probably were exhausted - they were completing their sixth flight of the day, had been on duty more than 14 hours and had flown three trips the day before.

Studies show exhaustion can impair a pilot's judgment in much the same way alcohol does. It's not uncommon for overtired pilots to focus on a conversation or a single chore and miss other things going on around them, including critical flight information. In a few cases, they've just fallen asleep.

Last year, two pilots conked out for at least 18 minutes during a midmorning flight from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii, as their plane continued to cruise past its destination and out to sea. Air traffic controllers were finally able to raise the pilots, who turned around the plane with its 40 passengers and landed it safely.

It's not clear where the captain of Flight 3407 slept the night before the crash, but it appears he may have tried to nap in a busy airport crew room where his company - regional carrier Colgan Air Inc. of Manassas, Va., which operated the flight for Continental - kept bright lights on to discourage extended sleeping. The first officer commuted overnight from her home near Seattle to Newark, N.J., to make the flight to Buffalo.

A brief review of US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight time and rest rules for scheduled domestic commercial carriers (US Code Title 14, part 121.471) are as follows:

Crewmember total flying time maximum of:

1000 hours in any calendar year

100 hours in any calendar month

30 hours in any 7 consecutive days

8 hours between required rest periods

Rest for scheduled flight during the 24 hours preceding the completion of any flight segment:

9 consecutive of hours rest for less than 8 hours scheduled flight time

10 hours rest for 8 hours or more, but less than 9 hours scheduled flight time

11 hours rest for 9 hours or more scheduled flight time

Read the entire section for exceptions (18).

The flight crew duty day starts with check-in, and is considered concluded at block-in plus 15 minutes for that day’s final flight. Rest periods are times when the crewmember is not scheduled for flying duty. These are not periods of restful sleep. Adequate restful sleep, however, must be achievable during these rest periods. In addition to FAA regulations, company rules and practices also influence crew scheduling and rest issues. Company contracts with pilots, scheduling practices for bids and reserve, and productivity demands all play a part in the balance between work requirements and crew rest.

When flight crewmembers find themselves flying when fatigued several warning signals should alert them of a dangerous situation. These include:

Eyes going in and out of focus

Head bobs involuntarily

Persistent yawning

Wandering or poorly organized thoughts

Spotty near term memory

Missed or erroneous performance of routine procedures

Degradation of control accuracy (19)
18. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, Vol. 2 (revised 2002), 14CFR121.471.

19. Caldwell JA, (2002) Asleep at the Throttle. US Air Force Research Laboratory Pamphlet.

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