Crew fatigue is an occupational hazard within the aviation industry. When fatigue sets in, aircrew may communicate poorly, become irritable and, more importantly, overlook serious activities or forget to conduct mission-critical tasks. Their decision-making abilities are reduced, and their ability to manage unexpected events may fail. They may even fall asleep for short periods, leaving the aircraft temporarily unattended. As a result, crew-fatigue-related incidents continue to be a fact of life.

Factors leading to fatigue have been clearly identified by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in its guidance documents. Sleep is lost or reduced due to early starts, late finishes and working at night, causing a requirement to sleep at times when most people are normally awake. Moreover, crossing time zones shifts one’s body clock, leading to both disturbed and inadequate sleep for crew members.

In addition to managing fatigue within national prescriptive rules and guidelines on Flight Time Limitation, airlines can implement a Fatigue Risk-Management System (FRMS) to work outside these prescriptive rules to help address the crew-fatigue issue. Managing fatigue while operating within the prescriptive rules can be part and parcel of a company’s safety-management system. However, to work outside the prescriptive rules, regulators will insist that a Fatigue Risk-Management System is in place with greater regulatory oversight to examine the evidence supporting each safety case associated with each request for a derogation.

A typical safety case will provide evidence that each fatigue hazard has been identified and quantified. The size of the hazard can then be evaluated using customary management processes and solutions.

There may be many alternative solutions, and each of them may attract a different cost, so the safety team must be able to make the right call to recommend a solution that is affordable.

Furthermore, there should be a quality-assurance process surrounding management processes to ensure that any changes in the operating environment are taken into account and the processes remain stable. All of these initiatives will be reminiscent of the safety management systems already implemented at most airlines.

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