Pilot fatigue a major risk in combating plague locusts

Fact Sheet

With the intensity of agricultural related aviation activity increasing at this time of the year with activities such as locust spotting and spraying, it is important that all aerial work pilots maintain an awareness of the fatal consequences of fatigue while carrying out these activities.

The ATSB was recently notified of an incident where a pilot undertaking locust spotting activities needed to be woken by an observer on the aircraft. The pilot reportedly flew part-time and his fatigue may have been related to his other activities as a farmer.

Not only is fatigue brought on by the amount of flying time and the type of flying you are doing, it is also attributable to what you are doing when not flying. If you have another job, especially one that requires long hours and involves strenuous activity or long periods of concentration, you're more prone to fatigue while flying.

What are the effects of fatigue?
Fatigue reduces your ability to conduct flying tasks. Specifically, the effects include:
•    slowed reaction times
•    reduced vigilance
•    slower mental abilities
•    memory problems
•    poor communication
•    reduced alertness
•    poor decision-making
•    fixation on a single task
•    actually falling asleep while flying.

How do I know if I'm fatigued?
Research shows that people often find it difficult to recognise they are fatigued. Fatigue can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Acute fatigue can occur in a matter of hours as a result of excessive and sustained mental or physical activity. Chronic fatigue is experienced when the normal period of rest or sleep over consecutive days is insufficient.

Try this checklist
You can use the following self-assessment checklist to give yourself an objective assessment of your fatigue risk before you fly:
•    did you have less than eight hours sleep last night
•    have you missed out on adequate sleep over the previous nights
•    has your sleep been disrupted
•    have you been awake and/or at work for an extended period
•    have you had less than six hours sleep in the last 24 hours (or 14 hours sleep in the last two days)
•    have you had a recent illness or injury
•    are you affected by medication, other drugs or alcohol.

If your answer to one or more of these questions is yes or even maybe, you're at a higher risk of fatigue.


Tips for countering fatigue
Arrange work and personal activities to ensure you get adequate sleep each night (eight hours).

Look out for cumulative sleep loss - missing a couple of hours of sleep each night adds up to sleep debt.

Be conscious of the quality of your sleep - if your sleep quality has been poor, it may not be safe to fly:
•    interruption to sleep can be from stress, babies crying, sleeping disorders, shift work, jet lag or any number of factors.
•    degraded sleep quality significantly lessens the restorative effect of sleep.

Avoid flying towards the end of a day; especially if you woke early or if you've been active throughout the day.

Take extra precautions if you haven't had a day of in a while or having been working long hours.

Plan your activities for a maximum of two-hours flying, with a rest in between each flight, and a maximum of eight hours flying in a day.

When assessing your potential fatigue levels, take into account all activities you do throughout your day - not just flying.

Napping during the day may help recharge the batteries:
•    limit your nap to between 20 and 40 minutes
•    wait 30 minutes after a nap to ensure you are fully awake before you fly.

Proper nutrition and plenty of water helps keep you alert:
•    minimise fatty and high-sugar foods
•    don't rely on caffeine (coffee, energy drinks) as they only provide short-term relief from the effects of fatigue.

Share this information with your co-workers and family. Ask them to keep an eye on your performance. Do the same for others you fly with.

Remember, getting enough quality sleep is essential to avoiding fatigue.

Type: Educational Fact Sheet
Publication date: 29 November 2010
Related: Agriculture Fatigue
Last update 07 April 2014