Fatigue Management has been a difficult Aviation Safety Issue
FAA and CAAs research led to Part 117’s new tool
NASA research creates a Fatigue APP
Fatigue Management has plagued aviation since Kitty Hawk. The first regulatory response, flight and duty time, proved difficult to apply and a source for labor-management debate. The FAA, other CAAs, industry and academics devoted massive amounts of time examining the most advanced research about fatigue.
This exceptional effort resulted in a new Part 117 and required constant assessment of pilots’ fitness for work in these dimensions:
- Varying flight and duty requirements based on what time the pilot’s day begins. .
- Flight duty period.
- Flight time limits of eight or nine hours.
- 10-hour minimum rest period.
- New cumulative flight duty and flight time limits.
- Fitness for duty.
- Fatigue Risk Management System.
Even with this new regulatory regime, confusion and controversy continue. There have been suggestions to apply the Fatigue Risk Management to AMTs. The final NPRM, Advisory Circulars and interpretations issued provide considerable guidance, but with so many words, differences of opinion are likely to surface.
As aviation has evolved, technology has provided numerous innovations which have advanced safety. Recently smart watches have been proffered as solutions to tracking fatigue.
Now NASA’s research has created an APP which promises to provide fatigue assessment on a real time basis. Perhaps this biometric tool will join astronaut ice cream on the list of civilian uses of their inventions.
- byAndrew Curran
- October 7, 2020
- 3 minute read
As part of a study into fatigue and the impact on and risks it presents to spaceflight, NASA has released an app via the Apple App Store that will help scientists study what’s going on in the body when fatigue prevents a person from working safely.
NASA has released an app to measure fatigue and
how it impacts pilots and astronauts. Photo: NASA
NASA is interested in fatigue levels and its subsequent impacts on alertness. Obviously, if you’re an astronaut, NASA would prefer that you were awake and on the ball. But on long flights, such a space flights, astronauts will get tired, and alertness levels will vary. NASA wants to know at what point fatigue levels can become dangerous.
It has got the FAA interested as they see it having practical applications for pilots flying closer to the earth. NASA is making the app available to the general public, targeting people working in industries where fatigue is an issue. It means everyone has access to a standardized measuring tool and method with years of high-end laboratory experience incorporated into its design.510.6K
NASA releases app for anyone to use
The app itself is simple enough. The test measures a person’s reaction time to a visual signal. As soon as numbers begin scrolling on a screen, the user hits a button with their dominant thumb. The numbers show their reaction time in milliseconds, and when people start getting sleepy, they respond less quickly. The app also records when a tired person resorts to the wrong thumb or another finger.
“It sounds simple,” says Erin Flynn-Evans, head of the Fatigue Countermeasures Lab at NASA’s Ames Research Center. But it is a variation on the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) that NASA already uses on the International Space Station to collect data from astronauts.
There are a lot of fatigue studies going on around the place. But NASA argues it is essential to have consistent and reliable data. That’s one reason why NASA is releasing this app. They want airlines and research institutions studying fatigue to all get on the same page.
“In a recent study using the app, we were able to collect thousands of tests from pilots, where most prior efforts might have obtained only a fraction of that,” says Ms Flynn-Evans.
Just the thing for flights like the Qantas Project Sunrise flights
It’s the sort of app an airline like Qantas might have jumped on 12 months ago. At the time, Qantas was beginning to operate its Project Sunrise research flights. It outfitted crew on the ultra-long-haul flights with wearable technology devices, enabling them to participate in specific experiences at varying stages of the 19-hour plus flights.
NASA’s app might look simple, but there are
years of work put into it. Photo: NASA
Pilots wore an EEG (electroencephalogram) device that tracked brain wave patterns and monitored alertness. Qantas wanted to establish data to assist in building the optimum work and rest pattern for pilots operating ultra-long-haul flights.
Qantas pilots wearing EEG bands on last
year’s Project Sunrise flights. Photo: Qantas
It’s about using scientific research to determine the best opportunities to promote alertness when they are on duty and maximize rest during their downtime on these flights,” said Qantas’ Alan Joyce at the time.
That’s precisely the sort of environment NASA thinks its new app would work well in. The space agency is counting on its prestige and brand power to get people using it. But they reckon the more that people and organizations do it use, the more good quality data that will come in, and that helps everyone trying to deal with fatigue and the risks it presents in the workplace, airborne or not.
Journalist – A Masters level education and appetite for travel combines to make Andrew an incredible aviation brain with decades of insight behind him. Working closely with airlines including Qantas and Virgin Australia, Andrew’s first-hand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing Australian airlines adds exciting depth and color to his work and sees him providing commentary to ABC News and more. Based in Melbourne, Australia.
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