If you are on a long-haul flight you had better hope that your pilot had a good night's rest and the opportunity for a mid-flight nap. NASA researchers have found that taking naps increases pilots’ physiological alertness by 100% and job performance by 34%.
Most of us are familiar with how night-time departures, early morning arrivals and jet lag can make sleeping all but impossible, but imagine the challenges pilots face when dealing with this week after week. Not only does shift work and geographical change impact sleep quality negatively, about 4 out of 10 pilots surveyed said that they didn’t get enough sleep during the working week. Sleepiness is a problem in many professions but when you are responsible for up to 555 lives high up in the sky the consequences can be deadly.
A number serious of airline accidents have been tracked back to pilot fatigue and 1 in 5 pilots surveyed admitted to having made a major safety mistake at work due to sleepiness.
Fortunately, more and more regulation is being introduced to ensure that pilots get enough rest between flights and there is an increasing awareness of the impact of working during what are usually hours spent sleeping. On long-haul flights there are usually up to 4 pilots to enable two to sleep whilst two remain on duty.
Considering that the world’s longest flight, from Doha to Auckland, New Zealand takes over 16 hours and crosses 10 time zones it’s a good thing that the pilots have the chance to sleep!
Sources: Sources: Crew factors in flight operations IX NASA. Crew Schedules, Sleep Deprivation, and Aviation Performance, J. Caldwell. National sleep foundation
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