Amanda Ripley

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Pilot Fatigue

19th May 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

  Fatigue is being named as a possible cause of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo. The brain performs horribly when it is tired. This is not a new issue. According to the NTSB, fatigue has been related to 250 airplane accident fatalities over the last 16 years, including:

    -Corporate Airlines Flight 5966: The NSTB concluded the “pilots’ unprofessional behavior during the flight and their fatigue likely contributed” to the October 19, 2004 crash.

    -American Airlines Flight 1420: Fatigue was connected to the crash that killed 11 people.  The pilot, who had been on duty for more than 13 hours, attempted to land the plane during a thunderstorm.

    -Delta Connection Flight 6448: The NTSB concluded that “the captain’s fatigue, which affected his ability to effectively plan for and monitor the approach and landing” was one of many factors contributing to the crash.

    -Pinnacle Airlines Flight 4712: The NTSB claimed that the pilot’s poor decision making resulted from “fatigue produced by a long, demanding duty day.”

  “It’s like having too much to drink,” Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, tells CNN about pilot fatigue. The brain has trouble making decisions and paying attention to important cues when it is tired.

  Regional airlines are disproportionally involved in crashes related to pilot fatigue. As Joe Sharkey writes on his blog High Anxiety, “many regional airline pilots work in a culture of chronic fatigue, in a sub-tier of the air-travel industry where captains might make $50,000 a year and first officers might make less than $20,000.” 

  Pilots working for regional airlines are often overworked and underpaid. Alex Lapointe, a regional airline pilot, tells the BBC that many of his colleagues make so little (starting salary of $20,000) they’ve been forced to take second jobs.  Sharkey suggests that the underlying culture (low-pay, no sleep) of regional airlines must change in order to avoid future accidents.