[Stress and fatigue in long distance 2-man cockpit crew]

A Samel, H H Wegmann, M Vejvoda, K Wittiber
Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift 1996, 146 (13): 272-6
Common rules on flight-duty times and rest requirements within the European Union are under intense discussion. In the deliberations, results from scientific investigations should be considered. As part of a research programme concerning legal aspects of two-pilot operations on long-haul routes, the purpose of the studies was to investigate two-crew extended range operations during transmeridian and transequatorial flight schedules. The studies were conducted with two German charter airlines on the transmeridian routes Düsseldorf (DUS)-Atlanta (ATL) and Hamburg (HAM)-Los Angeles (LAX), and on the north-south route Frankfurt (FRA)-Mahe (SEZ) including two consecutive night flights with a short layover. In total, 25 rotations (50 flights) have been investigated by pre-, in-, and post-flight data collection from the two pilots being the minimum required crew. Recordings included sleep, taskload, fatigue and stress by measurements of EEG, ECG, motor activity and subjective ratings. During the transmeridian schedules, pilots lost one night of sleep because of the return flights which were conducted at night. The resulting sleep deficit was 8.2 h. During the layover of the SEZ-rotation with a duration of 14 h on average, sleep was shortened by 2 h compared with baseline sleep. The two consecutive night flights resulted in a sleep loss of 9.3 h upon return to home base. Inflight ratings of taskload showed low levels during the atlantic flights, and moderate grades during the north-south transitions. Fatigue ratings exhibited an increasing level with progressing flight duration. Towards the end of long US-westcoast flights performed at day-time, and in all night flights, fatigue was enhanced compared to the "baseline" ratings collected during the DUS-ATL flights. Fatigue was scored at a critical level by several pilots, particularly during the return flight SEZ-FRA when fatigue was severely pronounced. The subjective fatigue ratings were confirmed by the objective measurements of motor activity, brain-wave activity (occurrences of micro-sleep) and heart rate which indicated drowsiness and a low state of vigilance and alertness during all night flights under study. From the findings it is concluded that duty schedules, as conducted on the route HAM-LAX (because of long duty hours), and particularly on the route FRA-SEZ, (because of consecutive night duties) are coming close to the limits of mental and physiological capacity. With respect to legal aspects, the results have significance and should promote further deliberations for advanced schemes of flight duty time limitations and rest requirements.

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