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Fatigue Management in the New Zealand Aviation Industry

Summary

We presently know very little about how fatigue is being managed in the New Zealand aviation industry. The present study aimed to gather information on how New Zealand aviation organisations are managing fatigue, the different strategies being used, the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches, the barriers companies are facing in managing fatigue, and the resources used or required to help organisations better manage fatigue.

Methods

All New Zealand-based aviation companies holding a Part 119 air operator certificate were invited to participate in the study (a Part 119 certificate is required to conduct air operations that involve carrying passengers or goods for hire or reward). Three questionnaires were sent to each organisation: one to an individual in a management position; another to a person in a rostering position; and the third to a line pilot.

With assistance from industry representatives a questionnaire was designed that included questions on: the structure of an organisation and the type of operations conducted; the use of fatigue management strategies in the organisation; how flight and duty time limits were met within the organisation; how well the organisation was managing fatigue; and how issues around fatigue management worked in the organisation.

Results

Responses from organisations were categorised according to the rule they operated under (Part 121 large aircraft operators; Part 125 medium aircraft operators; and Part 135 helicopter and small aircraft operators). One hundred and fifty three questionnaires were returned (out of 480), which included responses from 10 Part 121, 10 Part 125 organisations and 77 Part 135 organisations. This represents 55% of the companies questionnaires were sent to. The distribution of company responses is considered representative of the makeup of the New Zealand industry.

As expected, organisations operating under Part 121 were, on average, large organisations, operating similar aircraft in a relatively controlled environment. At the other end of the continuum, and also as expected, organisations operating under Part 135 were generally small, and operated single piston-engine aircraft and helicopters. These organisations were far more diverse in the type of work conducted and the conditions under which this work was done (e.g. all types of airspace and from all types of aerodromes). Part 125 organisations fell very much in the middle of the other two categories.

When asked about the use of 10 different fatigue management strategies in their organisation, 60% of both Part 121 and Part 125 organisations reported having 8 or more fatigue management strategies in place, while only 28% of Part 135 operators reported this number. Monitoring the flight and duty times of pilots, and monitoring pilot workload were the most frequently used strategies. Fewer organisations report educating their rostering staff or reviewing company processes for managing fatigue.

Examples of how these strategies were implemented in companies varied widely. Some companies had excellent ideas, such as including education on fatigue in Crew Resource Management courses. On the other hand, although many Part 135 respondents indicated that they educated their pilots, management and rostering staff, they stated this was done by detailing what the flight and duty time limits or company policies were and/or that these were to be followed. These discrepancies existed in the examples given for most fatigue management strategies.

There was a wide range of additional fatigue management strategies reported by organisations, including promoting an environment in which pilots could easily indicate when they were fatigued, raising awareness of fatigue within the company, and the use of internal communication.

The majority of Part 125 and Part 135 organisations adhere to the flight and duty time limits specified in AC 119-2 (Advisory Circular 'Air Operations - Fatigue of Flight Crew'), with 10% having some minor dispensation to these limits. In contrast, most Part 121 organisations stated they had either a Fatigue Management Scheme or another company-specific accredited scheme.

Where two or more questionnaires were received from a company, and where one participant identified as a line pilot, and a second participant identified as having a management role, responses were compared (34 companies). Significantly more management staff than line pilots considered that their company educated their pilots and management staff. Management personnel were also more likely to indicate that their organisation: monitored pilot workload; identified and managed fatigued personnel and; reviewed company processes for managing fatigue.

Ratings by line pilots and management personnel of how well their organisation managed fatigued pilots were also compared. Line pilots from Part 121 or 125 organisations rated their organisation's management of fatigue as below average, and tended to give lower ratings than line pilots from Part 135 organisations, or management personnel from Part 121 and 125 organisations, who all rated fatigue as being moderately well managed.

Comparisons were also made between organisations that complied with the prescriptive limits specified in AC 119-2 and those that indicated their company had a Fatigue Management Scheme or some other flight and duty time scheme accredited by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority. Ratings of how well fatigue was managed, the number of fatigue management strategies an organisation had in place, and the frequency of use of each of the ten different fatigue management strategies did not differ between these two groups.

Replies to open-ended questions indicated that most respondents did not think that seeking information on fatigue management was necessary, or that they needed further help, advice or resources on better managing fatigue. Those respondents who did report seeking information on fatigue primarily indicated industry sources (industry publications, regulatory authority, and other industry groups). Further information was also commonly mentioned as a resource which would assist in fatigue management.

Safety, and improved staff performance, productivity and mood were seen as the primary advantages of an organisation's approach to fatigue management. Reduced flexibility was seen as a negative outcome, and the financial cost and staffing were the main barriers to fatigue management.

Discussion

There are certainly air transport operators in New Zealand who are taking a comprehensive approach to fatigue management, with some companies having systems in place that make them international industry leaders in this area. However, in general, findings suggest that fatigue is not particularly well understood or managed by many operators. What is somewhat concerning is that many management individuals seem to believe they are managing fatigue well, but when asked specifically how this is being done, a large proportion of the examples indicate otherwise. This possibly signifies not only a lack of understanding of fatigue, but also what is involved in its management. This is further supported by the number of operators who indicate for various reasons that fatigue is not an issue for them, or that the use of 'common sense' is all that is required for managing fatigue.

The findings of this study strongly suggest that there is a need to raise industry awareness of the causes and consequences of fatigue, and processes for its management. It is suggested that the regulatory authority, industry bodies, and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) representatives consider who is responsible for doing this, and what educational material and supporting resources need to be developed and made available to operators.

It is also suggested that the regulator carefully considers what supporting information it provides to operators and the fatigue management processes it requires operators to have in place. This is considered of particular importance for those organisations which have approval to operate under company-specific or accredited flight and duty time schemes where greater flexibility is possible.

The findings of this work may also have relevance to the Australian aviation industry.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Author(s): Leigh Signal, Denise Ratieta, Phillipa Gander
Publication date: 12 April 2006
ISBN: 1 921092 41 6
 
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Last update 07 April 2014
 
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