Qantas, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) and the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of South Australia have joined forces to conduct a major study on pilot fatigue with a view to enhancing safety for the travelling public.
The three-year study will set a world first by developing a new risk management-based system for flight crew rostering. This is the first time that an airline, safety regulator, pilots` association and academics have collaborated to find a scientific way of managing the risks associated with fatigue.
The Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) study will be conducted in three phases. In the first phase, which is well under-way, volunteer flight crew have kept sleep-wake diaries and worn special activity monitors to obtain data on sleep patterns. Over the past 12 months researchers have collected data on about 4,000 sleep-wake cycles. A further 4,000 sleep-wake cycles of data will be collected over the next 12 months.
In the second phase, as well as collecting sleep-wake data, additional research will be undertaken to determine how quickly pilots` body clocks adapt to changes in time zones.
In the final phase, pilots will be observed in flight simulators to link real performance measures with predicted fatigue.
The research data will then be used to develop methods to determine how different flight tasks are affected by fatigue, and thus be used to determine pilot rosters, shifts and duty time in the cockpit.
Qantas Executive General Manager Aircraft Operations David Forsyth said the study was an exciting development in air safety.
“Qantas has earned a reputation for leading the world in aviation safety and our involvement in this world-class study is a further commitment to improving air safety for our employees and customers.”
CASA`s Director of Aviation Safety Mick Toller said the study would provide real and lasting improvements in safety.
“This project gives the regulator the first useful access to scientific data to predict when pilots are likely to have lower performance levels due to fatigue. We all know when we are tired, but fatigue is more complex, particularly for pilots doing long flights and operating through numerous time zones most of their working week. Aviation safety will be better for this knowledge.”
Professor Drew Dawson, Director of the Centre for Sleep Research commented that this project is an example of what can be achieved when industry, unions, regulators and the scientific community collaborate to solve problems.
AIPA`s Technical and Safety Director Captain Richard Woodward said the study had received enthusiastic support from the pilot research volunteers.
“The FRMS has the potential to be the single biggest improvement in the management of pilot fatigue and rostering since flight time limitations were introduced”, he said