Do Sleepy Pilots Threaten Air Safety?

by Fran Golden

Two years after a fatal commuter jet crash in Buffalo that was blamed in part on sleepy pilots, pilot fatigue continues to be widespread, experts say.

Having a place to sleep may be part of the problem. An ABC News report shows undercover video of pilots trying to catch up on sleep in airport “crash pad” units and crew lounges.

Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, a fatigue expert, says it’s hard for pilots to sleep in the kind of crew spaces they are provided.

Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, says of the sleeping accommodations, “It’s actually a creative response to a ridiculous situation.”

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, famous for his Hudson River landing of a stricken US Airways jet, tells ABC the landing probably wouldn’t have happened had he been sleep-deprived.

“We have to create a situation in which it’s possible for pilots to get a good, affordable night’s sleep,” Sully says. “We have to value this profession enough that people don’t have to live out of a crash pad or a crew room.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed new rules that increase mandatory rest periods for pilots.

(EDIT:  the new rules propose more flying by fewer pilots.  No such fatigue abatement is achieved.  This is nothing but codified pilot pushing.  See our “Response to FAA Fatigue Mitigation Proposal” under the masthead)

In the Colgan Air crash in Buffalo in February 2009, all 50 people aboard were killed.

(EDIT:  The NTSB did not cite fatigue as a causal factor.  The problem was with outsourcing pilots to the cheapest bidder.)

A sleepy pilot was also blamed for a Boeing 737 crash in southern India that killed 158 people.

Just last week, there was a report of a pilot falling so soundly asleep on a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flight his co-pilot, temporarily locked out of the cockpit, had trouble waking him. No one was injured in that incident.

Meanwhile, half of Norwegian airline pilots admitted to falling asleep in the cockpit, in a new survey conducted for Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

Of the 389 pilots who responded, 48% said they fell asleep “once” or “rarely” while 2% said they “often” fell asleep.

“We fear that this is an indication that the pilots are exhausted when they arrive at work,” says Aleksander Wasland, the vice president of the Norwegian Airline Pilots Association.

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One Response to Do Sleepy Pilots Threaten Air Safety?

  1. Trelease says:

    Fatigue is a hidden problem – how many times have you been thinking -I am too tired ,still -the show must go on ? It is a rising problem ,and as Sullenberger says , he might not do a ABC landing if he had been sleep deprived .. After 35 years of flying as attendant I am afraid we must all kick the ball -before it kicks us -the big dream might end in heaven ,; the smell of money and profitt has never been a favor to human rights..