For many people, fatigue is a normal part of everyday life. Typically, when someone experiences fatigue due to physical or mental exhaustion, he can simply stop what he’s doing and rest. In the aviation world, however, fatigue can have far more dangerous consequences. While fatigue is not usually named as a causal factor in aircraft accidents, it is often a contributing factor in the poor decision-making and pilot error leading up to such events.
What is fatigue?
Fatigue can be described as feelings of tiredness or weariness due to mental or physical exhaustion that negatively impact one’s ability to perform tasks. Some of the more obvious symptoms of fatigue include drowsiness, yawning, heavy eyelids, or even ringing in the ears. However, fatigue can also impair one’s vision, memory, reaction time, coordination, and concentration.
What causes fatigue?
The simplest reason for fatigue is a lack of sleep. For pilots, experiencing jet lag or flying at odd hours can cause irregular sleep patterns. However, factors such as stress, dehydration, illness, medication, or even hypoxia may also trigger the symptoms of fatigue in flight.
Recognizing and preventing fatigue
While a busy lifestyle often prevents pilots from sticking to a regular sleep schedule, getting adequate sleep is the only way to overcome fatigue. The average adult should try to obtain at least eight hours of interrupted sleep each night. According to the AOPA, the key to preventing fatigue-related incidents is self-assessment. Pilots should recognize their individual signs of fatigue and be aware of any cognitive or behavioral changes. If you do notice physical or mental signs of fatigue in the air, it’s best to divert your flight to a nearby airport and land safely instead of fighting the symptoms of fatigue.