Fatigue alleviation tools are popular instruments in the global battle against fatigue. Operators invest in Computer Based Training (CBT) and interactive classroom sessions to increase awareness about fatigue and how it should be challenged. The common misperception, however, is the belief that fatigue can be eliminated altogether. On the contrary, it’s almost impossible to eliminate fatigue and its effects since the root cause of fatigue is influenced by multiple numbers of internal and external factors. The interaction of internal and external factors can further complicate matters making it even more difficult to face the side effects of fatigue in the long run.
The consequences of fatigue has been long known, although appropriate means of tackling the associated build up of fatigue has only been recently challenged in the last couple of decades. These measures were taken mainly thanks to the introduction of strict regulatory enforcements presented by international bodies that encouraged, or alternatively forced, the airline industry to look more closely into how crew fatigue could be alleviated.
Having gone through stringent selection, training and testing procedures, pilots and cabin crew were once thought to be robust individuals who could perform exceptionally well under stress without allowing their emotions interfering with their performance. Evidently, this was fatally proven to be wrong after accidents related to emotional and personality issues made their way into the statistics. Without a doubt, advanced technology in the cockpit helped cover up human error, but advanced technology also had an impact on two other areas. The first was to soften up the old tough requirements that were expected from candidates if they were to become commercial pilots. Thanks to this softening, individuals with only average flying skills could also make their way into the flightdeck.
The second area was the improved efficiency of commercial jetliners thanks to advanced engineering and manufacturing. The combined result of relatively inexperienced pilots and increased number of aircraft and therefore increased flight duties and obligations directly soared the likelihood of exposure to fatigue.
Considering the flashy private life a pilot begs to have with the benefit of significantly better earnings compared to other professions, he would find himself in a struggle to cope with a busy flying schedule whilst trying to maintain a quality private life. It won’t take long to realise that a compromise had to be made as the two don’t go together in any form of airline flying. In quick succession, many pilots and cabin crew find to their disbelief that they no longer enjoy the job they once fought very hard to win. At this stage, losing motivation and courage may be more inevitable than one would imagine.
Commercial interests and strict scheduling clearly made life even more miserable for the ambitious lot amongst the flightcrews. In addition, standard operating procedures, periodic training and checks together with other regulatory requirements confined the once very social aviators into their little corner with very little margin left for them to maneouvre. Imperatively, pilots are made responsible to maintain their mental and physical fitness at a satisfactory level, especially whenever they are expected to report ready for duty. Daily activities and dietary habits must be adjusted to cope with rapid zone changes and exposure to varying stress levels. Long layovers away from the comfort of home, inadequate hotel accommodation, consecutive night shifts, difficulties in finding edible food at remote locations and destinations are all hidden agenda that pilots frankly combat all alone.
For a prudent and rational means of supporting pilots in their combat against fatigue, the aviation industry made up of airlines, researchers and authorities must all have a collaborative approach to devising methods that would help achieve tangible reduction in fatigue in practice. The actual influential factors of fatigue are in reality outside the control of flightcrews, and training pilots and cabin crew on theoretical aspects alone on which they already have solid know-how has very little benefit and only fools the naive. Flightcrews already do their utmost best to find comfort that would help maintain their well-being, but intense rostering and last minute changes at short notice hits the nail on the head in favour of fatigue, leaving no choice but to deal with the consequences.