ALPA Pilots to Fatigue Symposium: Rest Rule Needed Now

ALPA’s fatigue experts came in full force to a leading industry symposium this week to press for the swift issue of standardized regulations and to underscore that success in managing aviation fatigue depends on true collaboration among the regulators, the airlines, and employees.

ALPA pilots were among the panelists at a MITRE symposium titled “Aviation Fatigue: Building a Bridge between Research and Operational Needs.” The symposium attracted nearly 300 influential policy makers and researchers, and explored how best to apply current fatigue research to military and civilian flight operations.

“For nearly 80 years, ALPA has pushed to schedule with safety,” said Capt. Don Wykoff (Delta), ALPA’s Flight Time/Duty Time Committee chairman, during one of the breaks at the June 6–8 symposium held in Tysons Corner, Va. “Since 2009, ALPA has worked side by side with regulators and the airlines in the latest effort to develop modern regulations that reflect today’s flight operations and equipment. ALPA will seize every opportunity to make clear our science-based position that pilots’ bodies do not feel fatigue differently based on whether they are flying cargo or passengers and that one standardized rest regulation must apply to pilots in all airline operations.”

The MITRE sessions covered fatigue in scheduled operations as well as on-demand, military, and shift work. Panel discussions looked at the current tools that are available to measure and predict fatigue, including fatigue models and how well they can accurately predict human performance.

Capt. Greg Whiting (United), chairman of ALPA’s Fatigue Mitigation Implementation Committee, drew from his more than 15 years’ experience working on crew scheduling on behalf of ALPA in two separate panels at the symposium, including one on fatigue models.

Whiting expressed pilots’ concerns that most models used to predict fatigue are relevant to transportation modes such as trucking and rail, but not as much to aviation workers. Whiting explained that many models don’t consider factors such as the multiple time zone changes and the significant day-night shifts that pilots experience, which truck drivers and train operators do not because of geography. For this reason and others, Whiting emphasized that models can serve as important tools, but that the airline industry should not rely solely on models to predict fatigue. “We would like models to better reflect the population,” Whiting said. “If we were to calibrate and show that the predictions are correct for the target population, labor would feel more confidence in the models.”

The symposium also covered operational strategies to mitigate fatigue, such as Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) that include fitness-for-duty programs, fatigue countermeasures, and real-time fatigue measurement. Wykoff acknowledged the tremendous value that accurate fatigue measurement plays on individual and group levels, but he noted that fatigue measurement information must be kept confidential and not used for industrial action or discipline.

While comprehensive FRMS programs create an additional safeguard against pilot fatigue, Wykoff stated in no uncertain terms that standardized flight- and duty-time regulations and a minimum rest requirement that applies to all airline pilots are essential and that a collaborative process is necessary to successfully implement the rule and truly enhance safety across the airline industry.

“We need to get a rule out and get the basics in place as a proper foundation for fatigue risk management systems,” Wykoff said. He went on to underscore the essential role of three-part collaboration between regulators, airlines, and employees, saying, “There is much we can do if we do it together, but, if we do it separately, we will just repeat past failures.”