civil aviation: Pilot fatigue in the growing civil aviation space

Amid growing air traffic and the nation’s expanding aircraft fleet, pilot fatigue appears to be a dark cloud, with senior captains and pilot groups stressing the need for more serious efforts to respond to concerns. Although regulations on flight duty time limitations and specific rest periods are in place, a more scientific approach as well as a better fatigue reporting system will help combat the “silent danger of fatigue” , according to senior captains.

In a sign that fatigue is a worrying factor for India’s growing airspace, a recent survey of 542 pilots by the NGO Safety Matters Foundation showed that the majority admitted to falling asleep without planning/consent of the other crew or having experienced a micro-sleep.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) – a global grouping of airlines, including India – said fatigue had long been identified as a potential safety risk and the industry had developed broad standards and practices Recommendations (SARPs) for Fatigue Risk Management.

A senior captain who wished to remain anonymous said the silent danger of fatigue needs to be dealt with more aggressively as it affects cognitive abilities and psychological conditions. For example, doing two consecutive nights of duty in several sectors most of the time leads to fatigue and the existing fatigue reporting system is not popular among pilots, the captain associated with a large company told PTI. Aerial.

As part of the fatigue reporting system, a pilot can report to the security department of the airline concerned and the report is then sent to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC).

Echoing similar opinions, a senior pilot and an ICPA board member said there was a lot of fatigue among the pilots and it was also tiring to do two nights in a row.

The pilot also stated that the fatigue reporting system was not good and stressed the need for a scientific study by the DGCA to remedy the situation.

The Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA), which represents around 900 pilots of narrow-body aircraft at Air India, wrote on September 12 to the DGCA urging the regulator to remove all existing regulations relating to the management of flight crew fatigue and to formulate new standards.

The President of the Air Line Pilots Association of India, Captain Sam Thomas, told PTI that a serious opinion on the issue of pilot fatigue management has not been taken in India, including on the need to ensure adequate rest for pilots.

He emphasized that fatigue risk management is not an isolated thing and that fatigue issues are likely to become more so as the aviation industry expands.

“Flight safety should be the top priority for the regulator as well as the airlines.”

ALPA India has around 500 members and is the Indian branch of the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA).

Thomas also said there should be discussions between pilots, the regulator and airlines, among other stakeholders, about having an appropriate fatigue risk management framework in place.

The DGCA was not immediately available for comment on the issue of pilot fatigue.

When contacted, Vistara said the airline followed all standard processes and norms to provide the crew and pilot with timely breaks and time off.

Recently, the carrier introduced a fully automated crewing solution. It allows crew and pilots to indicate their lifestyle preferences which are then automatically reflected in their individual flight lists.

Questions on the matter sent to IndiGo, Air India, Air India Express and SpiceJet went unanswered.

Senior Pilot Captain CS Randhawa, who also served with the DGCA, said the rest period for pilots is defined in Civil Aviation Requirements (CARs) and is also based on medical study.

He also pointed out that if a person says they are tired, it could also mean that they did not use the rest period correctly.

“The provision to extend duty hours is there in the CARs but accordingly the rest period also increases… if (some) pilots say that the FDTL (Flight Duty Time Limitation) was set without any scientific study, then these pilots should prove (it),” he said.

Mark Searle, global director of safety at IATA, said fatigue had long been identified as a potential safety risk and the industry had developed extensive SARPs on fatigue risk management.

He emphasized that the SARPs are based on an extensive and evolving body of research, including ongoing feedback from safety-critical workers and that these SARPs are revised as more scientific data becomes available.

“Crew fatigue, and in particular ensuring that the crew is fit to fly, is central to any operation and, particularly during busy summer schedules,” he said. told PTI.

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said in August that India’s civil aviation sector was poised for phenomenal and healthy growth in terms of air passengers, aircraft fleet and airports. in the years to come.

By 2027, no less than 40 million air travelers, national and international, and nearly 1,200 planes are expected in the country.

Meanwhile, the survey of 542 Indian pilots also revealed that 54.2% of respondents suffered from severe excessive daytime sleepiness while 41.4% of pilots self-rated moderate daytime sleepiness.

“The effect of fatigue on flight safety can be analyzed by 66% of respondents admitting that they fell asleep without planning/consent from the other crew or experienced a micro-sleep. 31% of pilots also responded that they had had a close call during the flight that could have led to an incident attributable to fatigue,” the investigation states.

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