April 16, 2008
Airline Pilot Fatigue Still Front-and-Center
NTSB Sunshine Meeting Underscores Need to Act
WASHINGTON, D.C.— This week’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) findings made clear that pilot fatigue persists as a significant aviation safety risk. Solutions must include changing corporate cultures so that they seek to partner with, not punish, airline pilots for expressing fatigue concerns.
“Pilot fatigue emerged as a factor contributing to yet another airline accident, and we are extremely pleased that the NTSB continues to press the dire need for our industry—led by the FAA—to research and respond to this intensifying safety issue,” said Capt. Don Wykoff, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) Flight/Duty Time Committee.
ALPA commends the NTSB for continuing to raise pilot fatigue as a major safety concern and for exploring, at the Board’s Sunshine Meeting held on Tuesday, all of the factors that contributed to the Shuttle America runway overrun in 2007. The NTSB has listed transportation worker fatigue among its Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements since the Board began the list in 1990.
“Whether pilots are being pushed into sacrificing needed rest to help airlines deal with inadequate staffing or the strain of today’s economic uncertainty has taken a toll on pilots’ personal health, fatigue is escalating among airline pilots,” continued Wykoff.
ALPA maintains that, while the current federal aviation flight- and duty-time limits for airline pilots are severely outdated, a modern regulatory environment is only part of the solution to address pilot fatigue. Wykoff added, “Maintaining the highest possible level of aviation safety also requires a progressive corporate culture in which airlines proactively and non-punitively manage fatigue risk so that pilots feel they can report fatigue concerns before incidents or accidents occur.”
ALPA is actively engaging with regulators, airlines, other airline employee organizations, and industry stakeholders to forge a multi-prong solution with modern regulations and forward-thinking safety cultures that truly safeguard pilots, passengers, and cargo. “We stand ready to partner with others across the industry to develop policies that will allow flight crew members to decline assignments if they are impaired by fatigue,” said Wykoff.
In addition, the NTSB also bolstered support for many of ALPA’s long-time aviation safety priorities. “We are encouraged that the scope of this investigation included so many issues and that the Board stressed the value of proactive safety programs and its desire to see all airlines use them,” said Capt. Terry McVenes, ALPA’s Executive Air Safety Chairman.
The Board also highlighted the urgent need to make critical safety enhancements such as ensuring adequate runway safety areas at all air carrier airports and providing pilots with training for contaminated runway operations. “Today’s hearing underscored much of what it will take to raise our airline industry to the next level of safety,” concluded McVenes.
Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union representing more than 61,000 pilots at 43 airlines in the U.S. and Canada.
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