Tag Archives: sleep deprivation


Airbus 330



On June 1, 2009 Air France Flight # 447, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in airspace located approximately 400 miles north of the northwest corner of Brazil, inexplicably crashed in the ocean. It was somewhat inexplicable at the time, but eventually the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder were recovered from the floor of the ocean. These two devices, when reviewed, analyzed, and evaluated presented a despicably ugly picture. It revealed a scenario that was very similar to the highly publicized and equally ugly Continental (Colgan Air) flight 3407 crash on approach into Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground
The commonalities in these two aircraft crashes are uncannily similar. The pilots of Continental Flight 3407 were extremely tired and in a state of advanced sleep deprivation. They were also relatively inexperienced and poorly trained. These factors resulted in a breaking of the chain of elements that result in a successful flight. The pilots of Air France flight 447 were equally handicapped. The initial information released by the BAE (A European aviation investigation organization) and Air France indicated a very minor abnormality on the flight deck that related to an iced pitot tube resulting in erroneous airspeed. Unfortunately, as is the case in all too many aviation accidents, this was a recurring problem that had been identified by both Airbus manufacturing the aircraft and Air France, the operator of aircraft. It had, however, not been given the priority that it shouldn’t been given.
The NTSB, after sifting through the ashes of Continental #3407, determined that improper manipulation of the flight controls, along with a counterproductive retraction of the flaps by the copilot, was the cause of this accident. They also cited poor or inadequate training. Flight crew experience, particularly in this new aircraft, the Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 also played a small role. Neither pilot of this aircraft had had adequate rest in the previous 30 hours. While this was, subjectively, but unquantifiable, the primary precursor, it was only mentioned as a contributing factor. A significant sidebar to this accident is the fact that the last six fatal domestic accidents with the US domestic air carriers involved regional carriers, or, as they are more commonly referred to, “commuters.” Four of these six accidents occurred when tired pilots in the cockpit were entrapped in an excessively long duty period.
Nearly five years after the Air France Flight 447 accident, it was just recently revealed that the pilots assigned to this flight were also extremely tired. The captain had stated that he had only one hour of sleep during the previous rest period and his relatively inexperienced copilots—this was an augmented crew with one extra pilot—also were extremely tired when they began their projected long duty period (13 hours). As was the case with Continental # 3407, the Air France pilots were relatively inexperienced, but more importantly, they had no experience flying the Airbus 330 at high-altitude. The two pilots on the flight deck severely over controlled the aircraft and it entered into a deep stall. The airplane plummeted tail first, with the nose high pitch attitude of 35°, and engines at full power. It plummeted 38,000 feet to the ocean surface in three minutes and 30 seconds. The aircraft splattered into the water and 216 passengers and 12 flight crew members were killed instantly. A sadder chapter is that the pilots, and most likely all of the passengers and cabin attendants, were fully aware that the airplane was out of control and would soon be crashing. That awareness that your life will be soon coming to a very abrupt end, will most certainly create an unparalleled state of horror and emotional turmoil.
These two accidents when evaluated by the NTSB, the FAA, and the BAE in the many pilots who have read and reviewed the accident information leave those aviation oriented folks in a state of disgust. Why had the Air France pilots never been trained to fly their aircraft and cruise altitude? Like Capt. Marvin Renslow of Colgan air infamy, the two pilots on the flight deck of AF 447 flew the airplane into a deep stall and maintained that catastrophe-inducing pitch attitude. In the AF 447 flight the captain arose from his designated nap, rushed to the cockpit—actually there was a significant delay—and stood on the flight deck repeating the mantra from the two seated copilots, “What’s going on here; what’s happening.” Continental # 3407 had two tired, poorly trained, inexperienced pilots in the cockpit. AF # 447 had three pilots in the cockpit. They were somewhat more experienced and perhaps better trained, but they all experienced the common thread of diminished performance capability as a result of sleep deprivation.
For additional information relating to the problem of tired pilots in the cockpit, you can listen to my recent interview at http://webtalkradio.net/ by clicking on HOST and Ace Abbott’s Aviation Affair. The book, Dead Tired: Pilot Fatigue- Aviation’s Insidious Killer is available at http://www.deadtiredpilots.com/
This blog is prepared by Allen Morris, a.k.a. Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator: In the Back Alleys of Aviation (http://www.therogueaviator.com/) and the above mentioned “Dead Tired”





The ongoing problem of tired pilots in the cockpits of airplanes continues to undermine the safety of commercial aviation. In the United States, the FAA has finally stepped forward and made an effort to mitigate the problem of pilot fatigue. The changes were well thought out and based on significant analysis and study of sleep deprivation research. They will be very effective in reducing the number of accidents and incidents that result from pilot error in which sleep deprivation was a precursor. Unfortunately, there are two small caveats relating to this legislation: 1.The revised rules do not go into effect until January 14, 2014; Caveat number two: they do not apply to commercial pilots who fly cargo. This malfeasance was precipitated by allowing the profit factor to trump the safety factor. The lobbyists once again kneed the pilot force in the groin for the financial enhancement of their masters.
The highly publicized Continental flight 3407 accident in Buffalo, New York on February 12, 2009 was a great wake-up call that forced the FAA, after nearly 50 years of inaction, to finally act proactively regarding the problem. Amazingly enough, the pilots who fly for Canadian airlines and any of the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) airlines are now dealing with overzealous controlling agencies that want to increase the workload of commercial pilots. A recent survey amongst pilots from Austria, Sweden, Germany and Denmark revealed that fatigue is “common, dangerous and underreported.” The EASA is calling for regulations that will allow for 22 hour duty days for flight crews. This might be somewhat of an improvement, since 50% of surveyed pilots have reported being on duty after having been awake for 23 hours or more.
The Continental Flight 3407 (Operated by Colgan Air) that crashed in Buffalo on February 12 2009, provided the impetus to totally revise the FAA’s rules regarding flight and duty times. The two pilots in the cockpit of this airplane were severely fatigued and the NTSB did indicate that their state of fatigue was a precursor to the accident. After several years of in-depth studies of sleep deprivation and pilot fatigue instances and incidents, the FAA produced a science-based, airline safety enhancing set of revised regulations that will be finally implemented on January 14, 2014. The previous mentioned caveat: cargo pilots are exempt from the new more restrictive ruling has resulted in a lot of justifiable backlash from the pilot community.
ALPA to the rescue! An ALPA study has revealed that the FAA study relating to the projected cost savings of allowing the cargo pilots to utilize the antiquated and less restrictive limitations was an error. The FAA “cooked the books,” to indicate that pilot fatigue played a small role in cargo airline accidents. In actuality, during the last 20 years cargo airline accidents have been infinitely more prevalent than passenger operations. Captain Lee Moak and his ALPA colleagues have recently been making a very strong stance in Washington DC, regarding this issue. Hopefully, the ALPA lobbying will overcome the efforts of the spokesman for the cargo airline management operatives who do not want to have to hire additional pilots to fly their airplanes. There have already been too many “dead-tired” cargo pilots who have bought the farm.
For more information relating to pilot fatigue, consider reading Ace Abbott’s book, Dead Tired: Pilot Fatigue- Aviation’s Insidious Killer. (www.deadtiredpilots.com)
This blog is prepared by retired commercial pilot and aviation author Ace Abbott; (www.therogueaviator.com

Tired Pilots Get Reprieve

This is the result of an extended duty time for an Air Force nuclear alert pilot. Now, on the serious side. Today is a great day for all pilots (except cargo pilots) since the FAA is finally implementing the long-overdue changes to flight and duty time limitations for commercial pilots. Twenty years ago the NTSB had informed the FAA that there was a need to revise these regulations for the sake of aviation safety. After the highly publicized Continental 3407 (Colgan Air) crash in Buffalo on February 12, 2009, the congressional sub-committee on aviation gathered up Sully Sullenberger and several other high-level aviation Kahunas and demanded that FAR rules relating to pilot fatigue be revised. Nearly three years later, it was finally effectuated. Yes, better late than never!

However, there is a fly in the ointment since the pilots that fly cargo are exempt from the new rules. Do cargo pilots require less sleep? No, on the contrary, they may require more because they are more likely to be working on “the back side of the clock” when the circadian rhythm monster is nipping at their heels. This exclusion for cargo pilots is an unjustifiable mistake. Perhaps with enough outrage from the folks with the megaphones, we will put, the all to often and unfairly demeaned “freight dogs” on an equal footing with the passenger carrying pilots. It should also be pointed out that airplanes operated by very tired cargo pilots have a much worse safety record and nearly all of the accidents have occurred with pilots at the helm were in an advanced state of sleep deprivation.

“I’m from FAA and I am here to help you.”( unless you might be a very tired but experienced, competent, and well-trained cargo pilot). In 1995 a Kalitta Air DC-8 on approach into GITMO (Guantanamo Bay) crashed on approach and either killed or seiously injured the flight crew aboard the aircraft. A review of their duty day revealed that they had been on duty for 19 hours. And here is the “kicker.” After off-loading cargo at GITMO they were scheduled to fly their airplane to Atlanta. I elaborate on the “tired pilot”syndrome in my book, The Rogue Aviator, and there are numerous passages relating several 20 hour plus duty periods. The problem of tired pilots in the cockpit is only partialy solved. At GITMO there were no apartment building or schools on the approach path. There are many airports where hundreds, if not thousands of people on the ground could be killed or seriously injured in the event of a large (747 for instance) splattering itself into the terra firma someplace other than a runway.