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Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents - Aviation
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 Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents - Aviation

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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 sleep.

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 discretion.

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 regulations, comprehensive fatigue risk management programs, and individual responsibility. We have issued more than 200 safety recommendations addressing fatiguerelated problems across all modes of transportation.

To address the problem of fatigue, the following actions should be taken:

Vessel Operators/Industry

  • 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 crew alertness.
  • 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 safety.
  • 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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