Feb. 6, 2015

In aviation, “fitness for duty” usually refers to pilots’ physical, mental and emotional state, and whether they’re in condition to fly. However, the term applies to more than just flight crewmembers, said Debbi Laux, director of trade relations for MedAire, at NBAA’s Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference (SDC2015).

“It’s also maintenance workers, schedulers and dispatchers and anyone who touches that flight in any way,” said Laux, who also a member of the NBAA Safety Committee. “It means you’re capable of doing your job in manner that does not hurt people, property or the company image.”

In the Feb. 5 session at SDC2015, Laux discussed how schedulers and dispatchers deal with their own fitness-for-duty challenges. Laux was part of a panel discussion of the topic, along with Dr. Paulo Alves, MedAire’s global director of aviation health, and Sharon Forbes, scheduling supervisor for DuPont Aviation.

“As schedulers, most of us have the 24/7 responsibility for after-hours support and do flight-following during the day,” said Forbes. “That combination can be really punishing, and when we’re fatigued, there’s a higher chance we’ll make an error.”

Overlooking a logistical detail may not always be a safety of flight issue, but it will certainly impact the flight department’s performance.

The experts suggested that companies have a policy for addressing fitness for duty that includes everyone in the flight department. To avoid situations when errors are more likely, schedulers can apply the same self-assessment pilots do: I’M SAFE, which stands for Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue and Eating.

“That can be a lonely moment, when you’re not feeling well and you need to make a decision about reporting for work,” said Alves. “It’s a natural tendency to be in denial that something’s happening to you, but you shouldn’t hesitate in asking for help.”

In addition to being responsible for reporting their own fitness for duty, schedulers often have a hand in implementing crew duty/rest policies and procedures.

Most of the time, flight department personnel operate safely and efficiently, but there are warning signs to be aware of in a colleague’s behavior, such as frequent sick-leave requests, having a bad attitude when dealing with others or always coming in tired.

“When we see those signs in co-workers, our first thought is that’s not a big issue and we can cover for them,” said Laux. “We want to protect the people we work with. Everyone has a bad day, but if it’s repeated, then it could become a serious issue.”

The best course is usually to have a one-on-one dialogue with a colleague who might have a fitness-for-duty issue. “It’s one of those difficult conversations,” said Laux. “That’s why it helps to have a plan so everyone knows what to do when you notice those warning signs.”