Sleeping pilots and the need for proactive fatigue management
The Federal Aviation Administration in the US is investigating a June incident where a helicopter pilot fell asleep mid-air. The Boston MedFlight pilot was transporting a patient from Martha’s Vineyard to a Boston Hospital for treatment.
MedFlight CEO Maura Hughes said in a statement that fatigue played a role, adding that they “are now working with a fatigue management consultant and a safety consultant to review our policies and procedures so that this isolated incident does not happen again.” Isolated or not, fatigue management systems can and should be in place before incidents like these occur, not just reactive in nature.
This comes after the recent release of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on the Australian pilot who fell asleep and overflew his King’s Island destination by 78 kilometres late last year. They found that the pilot had been awake for 24 hours before the incident and had not been able to sleep during a scheduled three-hour rest period before the flight. The report stated his level of fatigue would have affected his performance, even if he had been able to sleep during the rest period.
Nat Nagy, who is the ATSB’s executive director of transport safety, placed emphasis on the role of both pilots and the airline operators in fatigue management. “Just as it is the pilot’s responsibility to use rest periods to get adequate sleep and to remove themselves from duty if they feel fatigued, it is also incumbent on operators to implement policies and create an organisational culture where flight crew can report fatigue and remove themselves from duty in a supportive environment.”
While in both instances no one was injured and the aircrafts sustained no damage, they signal a greater need for aviation operators to have proactive and robust fatigue management strategies, rather than waiting for an incident to occur.