Napping policy under consideration for pilots

Lindsay Ridinger

Fatigue plagues crew on longer flights

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering a new policy to allow pilots to take naps during flight.

Since a lack of sleep has been a concern among pilots, U.S. airline companies are now pushing the FAA to adopt this napping guideline. However, crew rest and crew rotation practices have actually existed for many years, particularly for long-haul international flights involving European carriers.

Isaac Nettey, associate dean of the College of Technology and associate professor of aeronautics, said he thinks the crew rest issue is a bit misunderstood.

“We’ve had crew rest all along,” he said. “Most people were not aware.”

In fact, Nettey said some aircraft, such as the 747, is designed for long-haul flights. These airplanes include bunk beds for the flight crew and a rest area for the attendants.

“Pilots sleeping during flight is not a new thing,” Nettey said.

Aeronautics professor Ray Weber said fatigue is a big problem among flight crews. When pilots do not receive a sufficient amount of sleep, he said they have a slower reaction to changes and a loss of motor skills. He also said they are not as quick, and their judgment is impaired.

“After a certain amount of fatigue, the pilot’s performance decreases rapidly,” Weber said.

Daniel Fahl, an ExpressJet Airlines captain and 2004 Kent State graduate, said before the napping issue is solved, he thinks fatigue rules must be dealt with first.

“Some pilots live in one area of the country but have to report to work at another area across the country,” he said. Since pilots spend some of their days off traveling, Fahl said it is difficult for them to find the time to dedicate to rest.

According to the FAA rest rules for scheduled domestic commercial carriers (U.S. Code Title 14, part 121.471), pilots should receive nine consecutive hours of rest during the 24-hour period preceding the completion of a less-than-eight-hour flight time, 10 hours of rest before an eight- to nine-hour flight time and 11 hours of rest before a nine-hour flight time or more. Fahl said increasing the minimum requirement for rest has been considered, in addition to allowing pilots to nap in the cockpit.

Although the napping rules would be dictated by stage length, or duration, of flights, Nettey said sufficient rest would have health benefits “that transcend alertness.”

“It’s important to ensure the overall health of the flight crew,” he said. “(Sufficient rest) supports better judgment, cardiac function and longer sustained health and work life.” He also said pilots must maintain good health in order to retain flight privileges.

Weber said even a short nap would “rejuvenate the situation,” since pilots have a very vigilance-demanding job. He said a 15- to 20-minute nap would be effective in increasing a pilot’s ability to do his or her job well.

“Napping would increase (the pilot’s) vigilance and ability to adapt,” Weber said.

Although a napping policy is still being considered, Nettey said students and the general public could better understand the issue by first learning more about the current situation.

“Once (the public) understands the current policy,” Nettey said, “it will be easier to propose policy changes into proper context. (Understanding) is the most important thing they can do.”

Contact College of Technology reporter Lindsay Ridinger at [email protected]