Barometer on pilot fatigue

Over the last few years, fatigue among pilots and cabin crew has become a genuine concern in the aviation world. Despite scientific studies showing that fatigue could jeopardise the safety of air operations, data about the prevalence of fatigue across Europe is scarce. With estimates of an approximate doubling of air traffic by 2020, getting an idea about the extent of this phenomenon becomes crucial.

A 2010-survey by the Norwegian public service broadcaster, NRK, revealed that half of the pilots have fallen asleep or dozed off while on duty, with almost 4 out of 5 pilots stating they have felt too tired to be in the cockpit. Following these striking results, ECA Member Associations have taken up the challenge of surveying pilots in Europe. The results of the surveys among more than 6 000 European pilots have now been compiled in the ‘Barometer on pilot fatigue’.

In the period between 2010 and 2012, more than 6 000 pilots in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK have been asked to self-assess the level of fatigue they are experiencing. The results uncover that pilot fatigue is a common phenomenon with a significant majority of the pilots (60-90%) having experienced fatigue while on duty and a third of the pilots having experienced episodes of micro-sleep and/or dozing off in the cockpit without agreeing this beforehand with their colleague. Some surveys show that over 50 per cent of the pilots have already fallen asleep while on duty in the cockpit.

The surveys also shed light on the potential danger related to aircrew fatigue. More than 3 out of 5 pilots in Sweden, Norway and Denmark have made mistakes due to extreme tiredness.

The ‘Barometer’ is a first attempt to bring some quantitative elements to the issue of air crew fatigue. This overview also discusses the main causes of pilot fatigue and looks into reasons for under-reporting fatigue, which is one of the reasons why fatigue is rarely captured in official statistics.

For a copy of the ‘Barometer on Pilot Fatigue’ click here.