April 14, 2014

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast about what it takes to be fit for duty.

Ensuring fitness for duty – physically, mentally, emotionally and cognitively – is one of the most important aspects of a pilot’s job, and so crucial to aviation safety that NBAA’s Safety Committee has listed it among its Top Safety Focus Areas.

Committee members, working closely with the NTSB, FAA, safety experts and Members, will focus intently on various issues that fall under the term “fitness for duty,” providing the industry with information and guidelines for avoiding or mitigating the myriad of issues that can impact duty fitness.

“Sleep apnea has received a lot of attention lately,” said NBAA Safety Committee Member Quay Snyder, MD, president and CEO of the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service. “That’s just one of several sleep disorders that can affect fitness for duty. Obesity or other physical limitations – many of which develop as we age – can also prevent someone from being fully capable of doing his job.”

Other conditions that aeromedical professionals routinely recognize, and see as problematic, include: medication usage, heart conditions, lung and neurological problems, substance abuse and cognitive impairment. Nearly all are treatable, thus returning a safe and healthy pilot to the cockpit.

Emotional issues also can play a debilitating role on the flight line, in the dispatcher’s office or on board the aircraft, Snyder said.

“Up to 25 percent of the population suffers emotional disorders during their lifetime. People can certainly be successfully treated,” Snyder said. “But the challenge is people in aviation, pilots in particular, tend to be a stoic group that refuses to acknowledge such a problem or seek help. We have to educate them to conquer their reluctance and get help when needed.”

“Pilots are problem solvers, not problem creators,” agreed Leigh White, president of Alertness Solutions, who heads the NBAA Safety Committee working group on fatigue. “So while it’s difficult to get them and many others in business aviation to talk about an emotional or financial problem, much less chemical dependency, once they’re alerted to a problem, they’re all about addressing it.”

White said the Safety Committee will approach the issue of fitness for duty in three stages. First, they will raise awareness of the scope of issues that can affect fitness while at the same time continue to define some of the existing research. The committee then plans to gather data from participating flight departments and identify specific areas for more intense action. Finally, the group will go about educating Members on their findings while providing useful resources and support tools to help pilots deal with these issues

“That’s where the rubber meets the road – educating people about resources and talking about really personal issues like depression, substance abuse or life-altering physical changes,” White said. “That’s critical, though, to overcoming the significant barriers to fitness for duty.”

At the Business Aviation Safety Summit taking place in San Diego, CA this week, on April 16 and 17, NBAA Safety Committee members will deliver a newly revised edition of the Duty/Rest Guidelines for Business Aviation, developed by NBAA and the Flight Safety Foundation. The new version is the result of exhaustive research and scientific review, which included feedback from business aviation operators on their experience with the first version of the guidelines.

The committee will also have on hand the NBAA Alert Crew booklets which summarize fatigue issues and list a number of strategies to help manage fatigue.

Learn more about remaining fit for duty and the other NBAA Top Safety Focus Areas.