About 75% of European pilots dozed off while operating an aircraft last month, according to a new survey.
Of the almost 7,000 pilots surveyed by aviation safety consultancy Baines Simmons, on behalf of the European Cockpit Association, just under half reported taking one to four “microsleeps,” while 17.% took five to nine microsleeps. Just 24% of respondents said they never took a microsleep.
Microsleeping is basically when you fall asleep for several seconds without being able to control it, and often you may not even be aware you have fallen asleep. You might appear to still be awake during a microsleep, but your brain isn’t processing information, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Among the insights in the report: just 22.4% of European pilots believe fatigue risk is “mostly well-managed” or “very well-managed” by their airlines, compared within 53.2% who say the opposite. About 73% of respondents said that they “always,” “usually” or “sometimes,” had insufficient rest to recover from fatigue between duties.
Just 8.7% said they have “never” had inadequate time to recover.
Baines Simmons wrote that airlines should do more to combat heavy fatigue, such as making reporting fatigue more accessible and improving accommodations for weary pilots.
Fatigue risk is by no means just a European issue.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association sent a letter to airline CEO Robert Jordan and other executives in April 2022 alleging that “fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat,” according to The Associated Press. The union added that the frequency of pilots calling to be relieved from work citing fatigue increased by 330% in March 2022 compared with the same month in years before the pandemic.
At the time, a spokeswoman for Southwest told the AP the airline saw a “significant and steady decline” in pilots calling in fatigued” after the airline made schedule changes months earlier.
While the Federal Aviation Administration maintains a list of recommendations to reduce pilots’ fatigue, they address lifestyle suggestions rather than company operations.
For example, the FAA says “When traveling, select hotels that provide a comfortable environment.” However, pilots have long complained about airlines providing accommodations that leave them unable to get proper sleep or failing to provide any accommodations.
In 2021, the Association of American Professional Flight Attendants and Allied Pilots Association filed grievances with American Airlines over inadequate transportation and housing, according to CNBC.
“We have Flight Attendants sleeping in airports and outside of baggage claim due to the company not providing hotel accommodations in a timely manner,” APFA National President Julie Hedrick said in a statement at the time. “Crew rest is being impacted, and clean, comfortable, and quiet rooms are not being provided for required rest.”