Aug. 19, 2021

With demand for long-haul travel growing, operators and flight departments must ensure their fatigue management program can proactively prevent the impact of crew exhaustion by using practical planning tools and protocols, industry experts said during an NBAA News Hour: Managing Fatigue Through Trip Execution.

“As people and companies prepare for longer trips, it is important to keep all safety factors in mind, including managing fatigue and the risks that are inherent with fatigue,” noted webinar moderator Brian Koester, CAM, NBAA’s director, flight operations and regulations.

Fatigue has always been a major safety concern for aviation and is estimated to account for up to one-fifth of fatal accidents related to human error – which is attributed to about 70% of all fatal accidents – said Steve Feldman, international captain at Boeing Executive Flight Operations.

“Fatigue is here, and it is real,” he explained. “We need to be able to mitigate it to the best of our abilities to make sure we fly safely.”

That mitigation is contingent on six key factors, added Feldman. These include:

  • A strong safety management system
  • A commitment from leadership
  • A commitment for the scheduling department
  • Participation of the flight crew
  • Educational excellence to ensure flight crews are aware of the latest fatigue issues
  • Just culture – one where there are no ramifications for a crewmember reporting fatigue and tiredness is considered as detrimental to safety as crew sickness.

Fatigue mitigation should be a primary concern when scheduling each flight, said Chad Patnode, flight operations manager at Pfizer. “You can never start fatigue planning early enough,” he said. “We start fatigue management at the reservation stage. You can tell when a trip request is going to be a doozy, so if a trip is going to be fatiguing, we will start running our fatigue calculations right away.”

This approach also provides schedulers appropriate time to seek alternatives from the individuals requesting the trip, if that is required, Patnode added. “I find that if you start that conversation early with your customer base, it is more likely that things can be changed,” he noted. “It’s way too late in the game to start communication the day before a trip.”

For decades, duty rest times have been a useful tool for fatigue mitigation but new software can “really give you a third rail” to address the impact of fatigue, said Feldman.

“When I mention the utilization of fatigue tools, the most common response I get is, ‘I don’t need a tool to tell me when I’m tired.’ But there are many studies that prove that is not the case,” he said.
Operators and flight departments must also look at fatigue beyond the cockpit, said Feldman.

“Fatigue impacts flight attendants, and passengers can feel the pain, too,” he explained. “But fatigue is a responsibility for the entire aviation community, from schedulers to operations managers to maintenance technicians. Everyone involved in aviation must be aware that fatigue is real and that we all need to be at the top of our game.”