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Cover Story

Rise and Shine: Strategies to Avoid Pilot Fatigue

If humans could sleep at any time and wake up refreshed, managing fatigue would be a snap. But in the aviator's world of multiple cycles, quick turns or droning through numerous time zones for several days, staying alert can be tough.

Fatigue received national attention after the Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, NY in February 2009, an accident in which both pilots on the ill-fated airplane had long commutes and didn't sleep in a bed before departing, witnesses said.

FAA Moves to Change Rest Rules

The Colgan Air tragedy prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in September to propose changes in the rules for rest. While aimed at FAR Part 121 operations, the FAA is also considering changes in rest policies for Part 135 operations in the future (NBAA and others in the industry insist that the Part 135 rules should be tailored to the unique operating characteristics of on-demand flying – see related story, page 8).

The Part 121 rest and duty proposals include the following mandates:

  • Ensure that pilots have nine hours of rest prior to duty, up from the currently required eight hours.
  • Establish a new way of measuring rest so that pilots can get eight hours of sleep before a flight.
  • Guarantee pilots 30 consecutive hours off every week, a 25 percent increase.
  • Set new weekly and monthly limits on duty time.
  • Base rest requirements on the time of flight and the number of flights in a given day.

The proposed regulations say nothing about long pre-flight commutes, however.

Hammering out these proposals took extensive negotiating with the airlines, unions and other stakeholders, and the negotiations promise to continue until August 1, when the FAA must issue a final rule.

On the other hand, the business aviation community has operated aircraft for years under more flexible policies without all the adversarial rancor. Operators and crews share one goal, regardless of expense: safety. They understand that safety is cheap business insurance when you consider the cost of an accident.

Companies Proactive About Setting Standards

More than 300 flight departments follow the fatigue management guidelines set by the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), which provides industry best practices, with an emphasis on self regulation to help flight departments worldwide achieve high levels of safety and professionalism. The guidance regarding fatigue management is general and provides plenty of room for companies to set policies that fit their operation.

For example, per-flight commutes are very much a constant consideration at CitationAir. Pilots traveling east through two or more time zones on their first day cannot begin duty before 8:00 a.m. local time the following morning, explained John Witzig, senior vice president for flight operations. "It's a sciencebased approach," he said. "Operating with rested crews is critical to our operation."

CitationAir crews beginning duty before 8:00 a.m. on their first day can't exceed a 12-hour day. Standby or active duty beginning at 5:00 a.m. or earlier is limited to 10 hours, followed by 14 hours of rest. Likewise, after 5:00 p.m., duty can't exceed 10 hours, followed by 14 hours of rest.

Overall, crews work seven days on and seven days off, a schedule that strikes a good balance between the needs of the company and the personal needs of the pilots. CitationAir recently invited Dr. Mark Rosekind – a national expert on sleep, productivity and workplace safety and a member of the National Transportation Safety Board – to provide training and help shape the company's fatigue management policies, said Witzig.

At The Hertz Corporation, crews can always request a hotel near the airport the night before an early departure, said aviation manager Skip Keeler. The company positions crews to relieve pilots who are nearing their duty limits. The operator also prohibits on-board crew rest. "You can't isolate the crew from the passengers," he said.

If a Hertz crew expects to be waiting at a fixed base operator all day, they can opt for a hotel room instead. The company has eight pilots for two aircraft that are flown about 1,300 hours per year. "We have a contractor [pilot] on retainer so we don't get caught off guard, and it allows for vacations," said Keeler.

Costco, the warehouse food giant, has flight operations at Washington Dulles (IAD) and Seattle-Tacoma (SEA). The company leans heavily on pre-positioning crews for international flights. For example, the operator sends a relief crew to Hawaii by airline when a company flight is going to Australia, said Ken Snyder, the company's chief pilot at Dulles.

At North Carolina-based charter operator Jet Logistics, fatigue is actually measured using a form that assigns points to risk factors, such as six hours of flight time, more than four legs or an early departure. If the total number of points for a given mission exceeds 21, the pilot must get permission to fly or do something to reduce the risk. At 31 or more points, some part of the flight must be changed, or the flight is cancelled, said chief pilot Kevin Slides.

Jet Logistics upholds a no-reprisal policy for anyone reporting fatigue. The company even has its own version of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration form where employees can report safety concerns without penalty. "We report occurrences for all to learn," said Slides.

For More Information

Get more fatigue-fighting tips by ordering NBAA's webinar "Crew Scheduling and Fatigue Management" at

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