Sometimes fatigue can creep up on you very quickly. Can pilots nap in the flight deck during a flight ?
Question asked by Michael
Research has shown that if a person is fatigued and sleepy, a short nap can greatly increase the level of his or her alertness. To deal with the fatigue problem, pilots are allowed, one at a time, under certain conditions, to take naps in the flight deck. The naps however, should not be any longer than 40 minutes. After that time the pilot would likely fall into deep sleep. Waking up from a deep sleep the pilot would experience sleep inertia, a feeling of sleepiness, grogginess and disorientation that could last 10 to 15 minutes. Because of the possibility of sleep inertia, after any nap, a pilot must wait at least 15 minutes before assuming flight deck duties.
In 2011 there was an in flight incident where a pilot woke up from a nap. Suffering from the effects of sleep inertia and disorientation, the pilot looked out the window and saw a light in the sky. He assumed it was a light from another airplane that was on a collision course with his airplane. To avoid the assumed collision, the pilot abruptly maneuvered the airplane. It turned out, the light was the planet Venus in the early morning sky.
Unfortunately due to the sudden movement of the airplane, several flight attendants and passengers, who did not have their seat belts fastened, albeit the seat belt sign was illuminated due the airplane was flying through an area of turbulence, were tossed around the cabin and injured.
So, is it really beneficial to let pilots have naps on the flight deck ? It certainly helps pilots to be more alert during critical phases of flight. However, in light of what has happened in this incident, perhaps another option for airlines to consider on flights where the pilots are out of their normal circadian rhythm, is to augment the crew by an additional pilot, relief pilot. Just like on the super long haul flights.
During the flight, he or she can work in the position of the pilot who is taking a proper rest, in the cabin or a crew bunk if the airplane is so equipped, away from the flight deck. However, unless legislated, present airline economics may not allow airlines to put an additional pilot on the flight decks, as passengers are always looking for the cheapest airfare they can find.
A bit more about Captain Dan:
Captain Dan Baz enrolled in Flight School at the age of 16.
He has completed studies in Aircraft Engineering and Master of Business Administration. He has been at the controls of many different types of aircraft, from single engine Cessnas to large intercontinental jets on global routes.
Over the last four decades he has flown thousands of hours up in the blue sky.
Have a question for the Captain ? Send it to Captain Dan Baz email@example.com Every week a question from the readers will be selected and answer posted in this column.