What is the problem?
Flying an airplane requires complex human interaction and an
operator’s complete attention and proficient skill. Amateur and
professional pilots, air traffic controllers, and maintenance
personnel performing safety-critical functions are, however, all too
often impaired by fatigue stemming from insufficient or poor-quality
Fatigue degrades a person’s ability to stay awake, alert, and attentive
to the demands of operating, directing, and maintaining a plane.
Pilots and other aviation safety-critical personnel may not recognize
the effects of fatigue until it’s too late.
Fatigue is often the result of insufficient
sleep. Even when individuals have
enough time to get rest, other
issues—such as medical conditions,
living environment, unpredictable or
inverted work schedules, and personal
choices—can affect their ability to
obtain quality sleep.
In the commercial aviation (airline)
environment, duty-hour regulations
mandate a prescribed number of
hours a pilot must be off work or
resting to avoid becoming fatigued.
But other aviation personnel in safetysensitive
positions are not as closely
regulated. Although fatigue is part of the I’M SAFE checklist taught
in flight training, general aviation pilots have no such restrictions
on operating hours, and getting enough sleep is left to the pilot’s
The traveling public is unknowingly and unwillingly at risk when a
fatigued operator cannot safely execute his or her duties.
What can be done?
Fatigue is a manageable threat to
transportation safety that can be
mitigated by a combination of sciencebased
fatigue risk management programs,
and individual responsibility. We
have issued more than 200 safety
recommendations addressing fatiguerelated
problems across all modes of
To address the problem of fatigue, the following actions should be taken:
- Establish fatigue risk management programs and continually
monitor their success to reduce risks for personnel performing safety-
critical tasks. Fatigue risk management programs take a comprehensive,
tailored approach to address the problem of fatigue within
an industry or workplace. Such programs include policies or practices
to address scheduling, attendance, education, medical screening
and treatment, personal responsibility during nonwork periods, task
and workload issues, rest environments, commuting, and napping.
- Establish initial and recurrent training programs for maintenance
and inspection personnel that include a review of the causes of
human error, including fatigue, its effects on performance, and
actions individuals can take to prevent it.
- Establish duty-time regulations for maintenance personnel
working under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 121,
135, 145, and 91 subpart K that take into consideration factors such
as start time, workload, shift changes, circadian rhythms, adequate
rest time, and other factors shown by recent research, scientific
evidence, and current industry experience to affect maintenance
- Require that personnel performing maintenance or inspections
under 14 CFR Parts 121, 135, 145, and 91 subpart K receive initial
and recurrent training that includes a review of the causes of human
error, including fatigue, its effects on performance, and actions
individuals can take to prevent it.
Pilots, Mechanics, and Air Traffic Controllers
- Get the proper amount of sleep. Recognize that adults need
between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night for optimal health and
- Talk to your doctor if you think you may have a health condition or
use medicines that affect your alertness. Some medical conditions,
such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), insomnia, and restless
leg syndrome, may interfere with sleep and can lead to fatigue.
Certain prescription and over-the-counter medicines can also cause
drowsiness. In March 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration
launched a major medical initiative to enhance OSA identification
and encourage treatment. OSA screening is now mandatory for all
pilots presenting for their medical examinations, and closely follows
the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s clinical guidelines.
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