Pilot Fatigue

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Pilot Fatigue
David Rogers
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
ASCI 634


Fatigue is a problem that everyone faces from time to time even airline pilots. The difference between the acceptance of fatigue a pilot and a common citizen is that pilots are our ambassadors of the skies and need to be fully alert and ready to take on any challenges that may occur. This paper will ask and answer three questions. Question one: What is Fatigue, Question two: How does fatigue affect pilot decision making, and question three: What is being done to combat fatigue.

Fatigue plagues all of us at some point in our lives. In aviation, fatigue may cause a pilot to fall asleep during cruise flight or it may impact alertness during take-off or landing. Pilots have a huge responsibility due to the fact they have a lot lives in their hands. This paper will discuss what fatigue is, how it affects the pilot decision making process, and what the government is doing to help combat fatigue and protect the flying public.

What is Fatigue?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fatigue is a physiological state in which there is a decreased capacity to perform cognitive tasks and an increased variability in performance as a function of time on task. Fatigue is also associated with tiredness, weakness, lack of energy, lethargy, depression, lack of motivation, and sleepiness (Federal Aviation Administration, 2010). Some signs that a pilot may be fatigued are: Lack of alertness, impaired physical and mental performance, poor decision-making skills, slow reaction time, forgetfulness, lack of interest, moodiness, diminished creativity.

There are two types of fatigue: acute, and chronic. Acute fatigue is short-lived and is a normal occurrence in everyday living. It is the kind of tiredness you feel after a period of strenuous effort, excitement, or lack of sleep. Rest after exertion and 8 hours of sound steep ordinarily cures this condition. Acute fatigue degrades attention, coordination, concentration and just the overall decision-making process. Simple tasks become overwhelmingly difficult and all of the remaining energy is channeled into apparently menial tasks. A special type of acute fatigue, called "skill fatigue," is a form of fatigue that pilots are more susceptible to. Skill fatigue has two main effects upon the pilot’s performance: The first one is timing disruption .This is where the pilot appears to perform a task as usual, but the timing of each component is slightly off. This makes the pattern of the operation less smooth, because the pilot performs each component as though it were separate, instead of part of an integrated activity. The second effect is the disruption of the perceptual field. The pilot concentrates their attention upon movements or objects in the center of their vision and neglects those in the periphery. This may be accompanied by loss of accuracy and smoothness in control movements.

Acute fatigue is brought on by many causes, but the following are among the most important for the pilot: 1) Mild hypoxia (oxygen deficiency).
2) Physical stresses produced by the aircraft, such as fighting severe turbulence, icing conditions, malfunctioning of the equipment. 3) Psychological stress, some of it emotional and some resulting from the demanding intellectual activity required for successful flight operations. 4) Depletion of physical energy resulting from psychological stress. Sustained psychological stress accelerates the glandular secretions which prepare the body for quick reactions during an emergency. These secretions make the circulatory and respiratory systems work harder, and the liver releases...
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