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Pilot fatigue refers to the state when a pilot feels exhausted or tired. Medical experts argue that pilot fatigue results from a reduction in physical and mental performance of the pilot. Pilot fatigue is dangerous since it may cause pilots to fail to respond to cockpit warnings on time and run the risk of plane crash. According to research, 80 percent of aviation accidents are caused by human errors, 15 to 20 percent of that amount of accidents are due to pilot fatigue. The statistics show that it is critical to address pilot fatigue in order to avoid aviation accidents. Pilot fatigue is common among pilots who fly long distances. In addition, flying multiple trips also increases the risk of pilots developing pilot fatigue. This paper focuses on pilot fatigue since it affects commercial airlines.

Pilot fatigue in commercial airlines is caused by several reasons. One of the major reasons that cause pilot fatigue is sleep loss. It is important for every person to have adequate sleep so that the body can carry its psychological functions appropriately. Sleep loss occurs when a pilot fails to get enough sleep that is required by the body so as to manifest maximum waking performance. Medical experts argue that no pilot should have fewer than 8 hours of sleep each day. In case a pilot sleeps for 6 hours on a particular day, he/she will end up having a sleep loss of 2 hours. Sleep debt occurs when a pilot has many successive days of sleep loss. If a pilot has a significant sleep debt, his/her performance may be affected significantly. In addition, the pilot may not be that alert, making it hard for him/her to control an aircraft. Reduced pilot performance may cause the pilot to show poor decision-making, slowed reaction, degraded judgment, and hampered crew coordination. This shows that pilots should have enough sleep in order to reduce the chances of developing pilot fatigue during the flight. If pilots get enough sleep, they will exhibit good concentration, vigilance, and efficiency of operations during their flight.

Circadian rhythms may also cause pilot fatigue. They refer to mental, physical, and behavioral changes that occur in a 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms respond primarily to changes of light and darkness in the environment of an organism. Time cues help to ensure that circadian clock is in its appropriate time of day. Examples of common time cues include meals, daylight, and work/rest schedules. When a pilot crosses a particular time zone, his/her circadian clock changes to a different schedule. It is critical for a pilot to have certain amount of time in order to adjust to the new schedule. This may end up creating a condition known as jet lag that is caused by the circadian rhythm disruption. The effects of the jet lag are similar to those caused by sleep loss. Researchers have established that jet lag is very common in trans-meridian flights. This especially happens if the flight is in excess of three time zones. In case a pilot flies in the westerly direction, the day of the pilot is lengthened resulting in significant circadian rhythm disruption. In contrast, if a pilot flies in the easterly direction, his/her day is shortened.

Stress, anxiety, and depression may also cause pilot fatigue during commercial air flights. Stress may cause the pilot to have low concentration during flight hours. Moreover, stressed up pilots may become moody and irritable. In some instances, it may result in sleep loss exposing the pilot to the risk of developing fatigue. Another cause of pilot fatigue is poor nutrition. If the pilot becomes obese, his or her blood sugar level may become low, thus resulting in fatigue. Pilots handling the night flights may also develop pilot fatigue. This is because such pilots are required to change their sleeping habits so that they are able to sleep during the day and work at night. It may be difficult for such pilots to fall asleep during the daytime, making them sleep for fewer hours than the recommended. Pilots assigned with high workloads may also develop pilot fatigue.

Pilots with fatigue exhibit several symptoms. They have impaired judgment, which hinders their logical reasoning and ability to make rational decisions. It may make it difficult for them to process critical information required to manage their flights. Another symptom of pilot fatigue is cognitive fixation, which makes it problematic for the pilots to concentrate on one or more tasks. Due to this, they become preoccupied with completing one task, which often makes them neglect the other tasks. Pilots with high levels of fatigue are also careless and indifferent while performing their tasks. This often pushes them to accept low performance standards by the other members of the cabin crew. Pilot with fatigue may also develop short-term memory loss and forget the critical information they require while operating commercial flights, e.g., air traffic control messages.

Irritability and depression are also common among pilots with fatigue. Irritability is dangerous since it may cause seizures. Extreme cases of irritability may also induce breathing problems, for example, slow and rapid breathing and shortness of breath. Pilots with fatigue also exhibit the symptoms of vigilance and reduced alertness (Federal Aviation Administration, 2009). Due to this, the level of their situational awareness is reduced, and so they may find it hard to scan their flight environment or monitor situations that may affect it, thereby demonstrating longer reaction time.

Pilot fatigue is dangerous since it may lead to aviation accidents. Aircraft accidents occur when the performance and alertness of the pilot reduces. According to recent statistics from the aviation industry, about 750 people have been killed in accidents related to pilot fatigue since 1971. Experts in air safety have established that pilot fatigue has contributed to about 15 to 20 percent of the fatal accidents caused by human error in the airline industry. According to statistics released by the National Sleep Foundation, pilots are the most sleep-deprived workers in the transportation industry (United States Congress Senate Committee, 2010). This exposes them to high risk of errors while they fly commercial aircrafts. Pilot fatigue, for example, is blamed for the Colgan Air flight accident. The crash of a Colgan Air flight caused the death of 49 people who were on board. In addition, this crash killed one person on the ground after the plane slammed into one of the houses near Buffalo. According to investigators, Captain Marvin Renslow failed to notice that the speed of this plane was reducing at a dangerous rate. Moreover, when the warnings from the cockpit of his plane indicated impending stall, the pilot pushed the sticker shaker forward instead of pulling it backwards. This caused the aircraft to suddenly flip to one side and collapse to the ground.

After the Colgan Air crash, the Federal government of the United States established rules that aimed at reducing pilot fatigue in order to avoid future aircraft accidents. According to the new airline rules, pilots should be allowed at least 10 hours of rest before two successive shifts. The main aim of this rule is to ensure that pilots do not fly their aircrafts in the state of fatigue. These rules also stipulate that pilots should not be allowed to fly for more than eight to nine hours per trip. This will help in reducing the chances of a particular pilot suffering from fatigue. In case a pilot feels that he/she suffers from fatigue, it is the responsibility of this pilot to report his/her condition before operating any flight.

The crash of Air India also occurred due to pilot fatigue. This crash occurred on May 22, 2010, in Mangalore killing 158 people. According to investigations, Captain Zlatko Glusica, who was the pilot of this flight, slept for a significant part of the flight. The cockpit recorder of this flight caught him snoring loudly while the flight was still in progress. When his co-pilot urged him to abort landing, Glausica failed to respond. This pilot was suffering from a condition known as sleep inertia and that is why he was unable to stop the landing of Air India. This plane ended up overrunning its runway and plunged off a cliff. A pilot from Air Canada also mistook planet Venus for a plane due to pilot fatigue. Report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada revealed that this pilot had indulged in a mid-flight sleep. He was suffering from sleepiness that is common among pilots from North America flying to Europe overnight. During this incident, 14 passengers were injured when the pilot tried to avoid collision with planet Venus. In addition, two passengers were also injured in the process. These incidents prove that pilot fatigue is dangerous since it may increase the chances of an aircraft crashing. This may evidently lead to injury or death of passengers.

Pilot fatigue can be avoided after adopting several strategies. One of the key strategies is establishing clear rules that regulate the number of flight hours for each pilot. The Federal Aviation Administration set rules that are aimed to reduce pilot fatigue. These rules require that pilots should have 30 consecutive hours of rest in each week. Pilots in charge of late night shifts should have shorter shifts compared to pilots flying during the day shift. This case also applies to pilots whose schedules involve numerous landings. Pilots are also required to sign paperwork in order to verify that they have had enough rest before they take a particular flight. In case the pilot is responsible for a long overnight flight, the airline should add a third pilot to cockpit crew. This will allow pilots to have more rest in case they are experiencing fatigue. Pilot fatigue can also be avoided if the pilot maintains proper diet before a flight. It involves drinking plenty of water, as hydrated bodies function more efficiently. Pilots should also consider increasing intake of vegetables, fruit, and low-fat dairy products in their diet. It will help in reducing the risk of developing fatigue. The energy of pilots can also be boosted when they have one or two caffeinated drinks in a day. It will help in boosting their mental alertness and energy levels.

Pilots can also reduce fatigue if they avoid habits such as smoking and drinking. Researchers have established that alcohol generates symptoms of fatigue since it is a depressant. Alcohol causes strain of the central nervous system of the human body. Alcohol withdrawal among pilots may also cause pilot fatigue. Fatigue results from a disruption in the sleeping patterns of an alcoholic. In addition, alcohol also causes dehydration in the human body leading to fatigue. If pilots avoid drinking, they will be able to avoid pilot fatigue. Smoking habits may also cause pilots to have a high risk of suffering from fatigue. Nicotine from cigarettes may interfere with the blood sugar levels of the human body, resulting in a fatigue. In addition, smoking inhibits the levels of oxygen in the human body. The amount of oxygen supply to the brain and muscles reduces. It leads to a slowdown in the functions of the human body.

Pilot fatigue can also be reduced if the pilots avoid having a large meal or physical exercises before sleeping. Having large meals before sleep increases the chances of a person having insomnia. Insomnia may make the pilots have trouble falling asleep. In addition, it may make the pilots wake up too early and feel extremely tired when they do. If pilots avoid large meals and physical exercises before sleep, they will reduce chances of insomnia leading to a reduction in pilot fatigue.

Overall, it is important to address pilot fatigue that is common in the aviation industry. Pilot fatigue is caused by sleep loss. Sleep loss occurs when a particular pilot fails to have adequate sleep that is required for the maximum performance of his/her body. Having adequate sleep will also help ensure that the pilot does not have sleep debt. Sleep loss affects the performance of pilots since it makes them take poor decisions and shoe slowed reaction. Circadian rhythms also increase the chances of a pilot suffering from pilot fatigue. Circadian rhythms occur when the pilot crosses one particular time zone. The circadian clock of this pilot changes to a new time zone. Pilots with pilot fatigue exhibit symptoms such as increase in cognitive fixation, carelessness, and indifference while performing tasks and short-term memory loss. It is critical to address the issue of pilot fatigue since it causes many airline accidents. The Colgan Air Crash and Air India crash occurred due to pilot fatigue. Strict legislations that regulate the amount of pilot sleep should be implemented in order to prevent pilot fatigue. Pilots should also avoid smoking and drinking.

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