Pilot fatigue is a widely known problem in the airline industry. But can napping in the cockpit help bring the problem to an end? Some countries allow it under very controlled rules, and proponents say it can make aviators much more alert and reduce the chance of accidents.
One of the major problems professional pilots face is fatigue in the cockpit. Earlier in 2019, a trainee pilot was caught asleep behind the controls after air traffic controllers tried to contact him. But the problem goes back much further: In 2017, American Airlines pilots union filed a grievance against the carrier over schedule fatigue. One year prior, a Eurocontrol survey suggested fatigue is the top problem for commercial aviators.
Some countries may have a solution to the problem – and it involves controlled naps while an aircraft is on autopilot. Salon reports two nations are allowing pilots to take naps in the cockpit, but only under very specific rules.
Both Canada and Australia air operations rules allow pilots to take a brief nap while the aircraft is on autopilot, officially called “controlled in rest position.” For a pilot to take a sleep break in flight, they must inform their copilot and at least one flight attendant. Over Canadian skies, the nap must not be more than 40 minutes and must awaken at least 30 minutes before the scheduled initial descent. After a nap, pilots are allowed 15 minutes of recovery, unless they are needed in an emergency.
Opinions are split on pilots going into “controlled in rest position.” According to a Florida Institute of Technology survey, the majority of flyers said they would not be comfortable with a pilot sleeping during a flight. A subsequent survey by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University showed 70% of pilots supported an operational rest period during a flight.
In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration changed work rules for pilots, limiting flight time to up to nine hours unless under specific situations. There is no indication that the FAA may also consider “controlled in rest position” time for pilots on active duty.
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