Similarities Between Pilot Fatigue and Incapacitation

January 11, 2012   Filed under Airline

Just Recently a British Airways flight carried out an air turn back and returned to Heathrow airfield about 20 minutes after Takeoff due to the Captain not feeling well. Aside from some “panic” statements to the press from a few of the passengers, the aircraft returned without incident and completed a safe and uneventful landing.

This kind of situation is often known as pilot incapacitation and can happen in subtle forms like in that particular situation where the pilot was feeling a little light-headed or in more dire eventualities such as when a pilot experiences a heart attack or stroke. Airlines have procedures in place for the detection of any type of incapacitation and also what to do if this situation should appear. Whether or not one pilot is completely unconscious the other pilot will be in a position to safely land at an airport.

Lately the FAA announced it’s recently released pilot fatigue rules which it’s purpose is to make the skies safer for both passengers and pilots alike. Glaringly these rules were changed for a reason however the FAA felt these new regulations needn’t apply to cargo pilots. While their decision to do that had to have been influenced by political pressure I totally disagree with it, believing it should comprise all pilots and not just passenger pilots.

While it may be a controversial point I’d still like to identify the similarities between a fatigued, tired pilot and subtle incapacitation. Crew Incapacitation means a condition of decline or loss of flight crew member’s capability to perform their duties during flight due to physical or psychological influences. In the British Airways example above the incapacitation was subtle and was recognisable by both crew.

In that situation the pilot felt light headed and unable to complete his job. Realistically what is the difference between subtle incapacitation and a sleepy pilot. Any pilot who is sleepy isn’t capable of carrying out his flight duties at an OK level. Their performance will be radically reduced and heaven forbid have to handle a critical situation while in this condition.

At his web site Steve Brennan discusses aviation issues especially those pertaining to pilots. Issues stemming from what is a Pilot Salary, pilot fatigue rules and current news stories are posted there.


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