Thursday, 4 March 2010

Federal Aviation Administration to Investigate Pilot Fatigue as a Factor in Plane Crashes

Last year's Cogan Air plane crash near Buffalo, New York was linked at least in part to pilot fatigue. The two pilots had apparently slept very little in the 24 hours preceding the fatal flight. The Federal Aviation Administration is now taking steps to ensure that pilot fatigue-related air crashes are minimized. The agency has announced that it will ask airlines how much sleep pilots have before flights.

Pilot fatigue, as a factor in plane crashes, burst into the limelight when the Continental connection flight crashed into a neighborhood near Buffalo. All 49 people on board were killed, and one person on the ground also suffered fatal injuries. The captain of the plane Marvin Renslow had traveled from Florida to New Jersey, from where the plane took off, three days before the fatal crash. Out of the three nights before the accident, he had spent two nights in a crew lounge which had no beds. The copilot, Rebecca Shaw had reported for duty that day after traveling all night from Seattle where she rented a home, to New Jersey.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed lack of sleep and pilot fatigue for the crash. Both pilots, the NTSB report confirmed, slept little in the hours before the crash.

Aviation accident lawyers will tell you that the problem is not unique or exclusive to the Colgan Air crash. In fact, problems of pilot fatigue are very common among low-cost regional carriers that typically tend to pay their pilots lower salaries. Poorly paid pilots are unable to rent homes near the major hubs. This means that they have longer distances to travel before they can report to work. The result is lack of sleep, tiredness and drowsiness. All of this can affect pilot performance, as was clear to see in the Colgan Air crash.

Low-cost regional carriers’ cost cutting preferences have also come under the microscope. Federal regulators believe this industry encourages pilot fatigue by paying low wages, which discourage pilots from renting hotel rooms close to the hub. Federal agencies have already broached the question about whether carriers can limit commuting times for pilots in order to decrease the effect of fatigue.

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