Mitigating and monitoring flight crew fatigue on a westward ultra-long-range flight

T Leigh Signal, Hannah M Mulrine, Margo J van den Berg, Alexander A T Smith, Philippa H Gander, Wynand Serfontein
Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 2014, 85 (12): 1199-208

BACKGROUND: This study examined the uptake and effectiveness of fatigue mitigation guidance material including sleep recommendations for a trip with a westward ultra-long-range flight and return long-range flight.

METHODS: There were 52 flight crew (4-pilot crews, mean age 55 yr) who completed a sleep/duty diary and wore an actigraph prior to, during, and after the trip. Primary crew flew the takeoff and landing, while relief crew flew the aircraft during the Primary crew's breaks. At key times in flight, crewmembers rated their fatigue (Samn-Perelli fatigue scale) and sleepiness (Karolinska Sleepiness Scale) and completed a 5-min Psychomotor Vigilance Task.

RESULTS: Napping was common prior to the outbound flight (54%) and did not affect the quantity or quality of in-flight sleep (mean 4.3 h). Primary crew obtained a similar amount on the inbound flight (mean 4.0 h), but Secondary crew had less sleep (mean 2.9 h). Subjective fatigue and sleepiness increased and performance slowed across flights. Performance was faster on the outbound than inbound flight. On both flights, Primary crew were less fatigued and sleepy than Secondary crew, particularly at top of descent and after landing. Crewmembers slept more frequently and had more sleep in the first 24 h of the layover than the last, and had shifted their main sleep to the local night by the second night.

DISCUSSION: The suggested sleep mitigations were employed by the majority of crewmembers. Fatigue levels were no worse on the outbound ultra-long-range flight than on the return long-range flight.

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