ARTICLE: Crew Schedules, Sleep Deprivation, and Aviation Performance

Science Daily reports on an article to be published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, by Dr. John A Caldwell, a psychologist and senior scientist at Fatigue Science. The premise is that fatigue from insufficient sleep impacts pilot performance with the basic skills needed to operate an aircraft. Dr. Caldwell concludes;

“fatigue-related performance problems in aviation have been consistently underestimated and underappreciated, despite the fact that decades of research on pilots and other operational personnel has clearly established that fatigue from insufficient sleep significantly degrades basic cognitive performance, psychological mood, and fundamental piloting skills.”

As previously noted, the determinative issue is not just “duty time”, but as noted by Dr. Caldwell:

“The two most important variables for alertness are recent sleep and the body’s natural circadian rhythm, or “body clock.” What that means is that when a pilot reports for duty, he or she should have had from seven to nine hours of good sleep within a reasonable period of time before work and that as often as possible, the work schedule is in some harmony with the pilot’s natural daily rhythm.” [emphasis added]

The author concludes that the FAA’s most recent approach “better account[s] for the true physiological nature of fatigue, but additional fatigue-management strategies are needed.”

This is a very complex issue and reference to the original report is recommended, but it is always a plus to base future amendments of the regulations on valid research which takes a holistic approach.

Dr. Caldwell’s article: J. A. Caldwell. Crew Schedules, Sleep Deprivation, and Aviation Performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2012; 21 (2): 85 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411435842

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