Fatiguing effect of multiple take-offs and landings in regional airline operations.Accid Anal Prev. 2016 Jan; 86:199-208.AA
Fatigue is a risk factor for flight performance and safety in commercial aviation. In US commercial aviation, to help to curb fatigue, the maximum duration of flight duty periods is regulated based on the scheduled start time and the number of flight segments to be flown. There is scientific support for regulating maximum duty duration based on scheduled start time; fatigue is well established to be modulated by circadian rhythms. However, it has not been established scientifically whether the number of flight segments, per se, affects fatigue. To address this science gap, we conducted a randomized, counterbalanced, cross-over study with 24 active-duty regional airline pilots. Objective and subjective fatigue was compared between a 9-hour duty day with multiple take-offs and landings versus a duty day of equal duration with a single take-off and landing. To standardize experimental conditions and isolate the fatiguing effect of the number of segments flown, the entire duty schedules were carried out in a high-fidelity, moving-base, full-flight, regional jet flight simulator. Steps were taken to maintain operational realism, including simulated airplane inspections and acceptance checks, use of realistic dispatch releases and airport charts, real-world air traffic control interactions, etc. During each of the two duty days, 10 fatigue test bouts were administered, which included a 10-minute Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT) assessment of objective fatigue and Samn-Perelli (SP) and Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS) assessments of subjective sleepiness/fatigue. Results showed a greater build-up of objective and subjective fatigue in the multi-segment duty day than in the single-segment duty day. With duty start time and duration and other variables that could impact fatigue levels held constant, the greater build-up of fatigue in the multi-segment duty day was attributable specifically to the difference in the number of flight segments flown. Compared to findings in previously published laboratory studies of simulated night shifts and nighttime sleep deprivation, the magnitude of the fatiguing effect of the multiple take-offs and landings was modest. Ratings of flight performance were not significantly reduced for the simulated multi-segment duty day. The US duty and flight time regulations for commercial aviation shorten the maximum duty duration in multi-segment operations by up to 25% depending on the duty start time. The present results represent an important first step in understanding fatigue in multi-segment operations, and provide support for the number of flight segments as a relevant factor in regulating maximum duty duration. Nonetheless, based on our fatigue results, a more moderate reduction in maximum duty duration as a function of the number of flight segments might be considered. However, further research is needed to include investigation of flight safety, and to extend our findings to nighttime operations.