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The human operator, the least reliable element of an aerodyne, but the most essential...!
Frank Caron (1991)

Last update:
26 September 2016

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Human Factors - Two statements about fatigue every manager must know

Fatigue results from most of our physical and mental resources consumption.




Frank Caron, September 2010.

Fatigue denotes a state represented by a loss in efficiency and a general disinclination to work.

Efficiency: In an economic sense, the ratio or proportionality between the value of the human end achieved and the value of the scarce resources expended to achieve it.


That toward which you are inclined to feel dislike.


The current Federal Aviation Administration work rules for flight crews can be resumed as follow:

  1. Pilots can fly up to 8 hours a day,
  2. A workday, which includes flight preparation time on the ground, can extend up to 16 hours,
  3. Federal rules require eight hours off each day, but don't address how much sleep a pilot should receive.
  4. Pilots can fly up to 100 hours per month on domestic flights.

For years thousand pilots, mechanics and air-traffic controllers are reporting that fatigue led them to make mistakes on the job, including several cases where pilots fell asleep in midflight since the years 2000's.
The reports show that crews flew to the wrong altitude, botched landings and missed radio calls, according to an aviation safety database compiled by NASA. In one case, a pilot and co-pilot fell asleep while descending toward Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., the NASA records say.

Pilot unions say fatigue is one of the top safety threats in aviation. The incidents are partially the result of changes in work rules imposed by financially troubled airlines that have put added pressures on pilots to fly longer hours, unions say.

"We see these as signs of pushing pilots to go beyond their limits," said Capt. John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the nation's largest pilot's union.

The NTSB has for two decades called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to tighten restrictions on how many hours pilots can work each day.
Airline crews can work up to 16 hours a day, possibly more if a flight is delayed. Research by the NTSB and others shows sharply higher risks of pilot mistakes and accidents after long shifts or periods without normal sleep.

The FAA has tried several times to revise pilot work rules since the 1990s, but the efforts failed each time under opposition from airlines and pilot unions.

Airlines recognize that tired pilots are not effective and have devoted considerable resources to the issue. In recent years, most carriers have boosted fatigue training and strengthened policies allowing pilots to decline to fly if they feel tired, but in practice it does not seem to be efficient says the ALPA.

The NASA system contains 750 incidents since 2000 in which aviation workers cited fatigue-related incidents. Pilots were involved in 650 of those cases.

quick links

5 steps to convince about safety

Why air safety improvement is too slow (organisation)?

Why air safety improvement is too slow (culture)?

Why training is the main solution to human factors issues

Human factors still the current challenge of the industry

No limits for the understanding of human factors

Suggestions for a discipline committee

Too long briefings

Current CRM have reach its limits

Aviation safety international legal definitions

Two statements about fatigue every manager must know