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Are pilots at risk of accidents due to fatigue?

by Jeffrey H. Goode
Journal of Safety Research ()
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Problem: There is concern in the aviation community that pilot schedules can lead to fatigue and increased chance of an aviation accident. Yet despite this concern, there is little empirical analysis showing the relationship between pilot schedules and commercial aviation accidents. This study attempts to demonstrate an empirical relationship between pilot schedules and aviation accidents. Method: Data for human factors-related accidents and pilot work patterns were identified. The distribution of pilot work schedule parameters for the accidents was compared to that for all pilots using a chi-square test to determine if the proportions of accidents and length of duty exposure were the same. If the distributions are the same, then one could infer that pilot human factor accidents are not affected by work schedule parameters. Results: The proportion of accidents associated with pilots having longer duty periods is higher than the proportion of longer duty periods for all pilots. Discussion: There is a discernible pattern of increased probability of an accident as duty time increases for commercial aircraft pilots in the United States. Impact on Industry: The analysis suggests that establishing limits on duty time for commercial pilots would reduce risk. Such a rule is likely to be expensive and could substantially impact the commercial airlines. In return, there is likely to be a reduction in the risk of commercial aviation accidents due to pilot fatigue. © 2003 National Safety Council and Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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