Danish pilots admit to sleeping on the job – literally

Nine out of ten pilots in Denmark have made fatigue-related mistakes, but very few speak up about it By Jessica Hanley After the drama of the past several days, it goes without saying that Danish SAS pilots must be tired....

Nine out of ten pilots in Denmark have made fatigue-related mistakes, but very few speak up about it

By Jessica Hanley

After the drama of the past several days, it goes without saying that Danish SAS pilots must be tired. But even pilots not involved in intense negotiations to keep their jobs are often worn out.
 
In fact, up to 93 percent of Danish pilots have felt so tired that they were unfit for duty, according to a new survey by the European Cockpit Association (ECA). Unfit for duty, but by that time they were already on the flight deck.
 
Some 53 percent of pilots even admitted to dozing off or experiencing micro-sleeps – brief, involuntary losses of attention – while in the cockpit, often without the knowledge of the second pilot.
 
This kind of fatigue comes at a cost. When fatigued pilots can become increasingly prone to poor judgement and decision-making, longer reaction times and decreased visual perception.
 
“Failure to follow procedures in safety checklists, miscommunications or missing air traffic control instructions are examples of what these mistakes might be,” the ECA stated in a release. “Seemingly benign mistakes can have significant consequences on the safety of flight operations.”
 
When asked to estimate how much fatigue affected their in-flight performance, 80-90 percent of the Danish pilots acknowledged they’ve made mistakes due to extreme tiredness, and 43 percent admitted they’ve been involved in near-accidents for the same reason.
 
Data about fatigue-related incidents has previously been hard to come by. According to the ECA, this is because pilots generally keep quiet about it.
 
“Pilots very often do not report these occurrences, partly due to the fatigue itself, partly due to a fear of repercussions from their employers,” the ECA stated. 
 
So why exactly are Denmark’s pilots so sleepy? Most blamed insufficient rest periods between shifts and their long working hours as the causes of their exhaustion.
 
The publication of the ECA fatigue survey comes as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is proposing new regulations for flight and duty time.
 
“We hope that the data compiled will serve as useful input for the related decision-making process,” the ECA reported.

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