Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Recognizing You’re In Trouble


Fatigue can cause pilots to fall behind



SELF-AWARENESS CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE. High on the list of critically important skills for pilots to possess is the ability to gauge when they’re falling behind in an unfolding scenario.
One of the most important skills for pilots to possess is the ability to recognize when they’re falling behind in an unfolding scenario. Frequently, pilots who fall too far behind experience accidents and are immortalized in NTSB accident reports. The lucky ones merely violate FAA regulations or procedures.

An airline transport pilot told NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System about falling behind due to fatigue: “At arrival time, I had been awake for almost 20 hours and had been on duty for just under 14 hours. During the descent and approach to our destination...I began to notice that I was experiencing the debilitating effects of fatigue in the form of various small errors. The arrival airport was under IFR conditions and...required a great deal of concentration due to inclement weather and turbulence... [I] experienced spatial disorientation due to the very dark area around the airport, a strong crosswind and effects associated with fatigue.”

The pilot of a Cessna Caravan 208A on a Part 135 cargo flight reported that, while descending for a landing, “I entered the clouds at 10,000 feet, and experienced severe [and] then extreme turbulence. [I] was unable to control the aircraft’s heading, altitude or navigation. The autopilot disconnected, and I was temporarily disoriented and unable to navigate the aircraft on course. ATC queried me about my status and my heading. I told them I was in ‘severe turbulence’ and needed a climb back to 12,000 feet. ATC asked me if I was tracking the airway, and I told them the autopilot was ‘slow to intercept, but I was working it.’ ATC told me I was about 90 degrees off course, and asked me if I needed ‘no gyro vectors on course.’ I said ‘affirmative,’ and requested a climb to clear the clouds.”

The pilot continued, “The loss of situational awareness, aircraft control and navigation all occurred simultaneously. This was induced by the severe turbulence that I encountered and the disorientation I experienced. I was unable to successfully navigate to the airway... I also feel that fatigue was a factor in this event. The weather locally has been poor for about two months and has affected most of our line pilots on a daily basis. We are just not getting enough rest between critical events!”

The NTSB recently issued a report on a flight in which the pilot faced factors similar to those experienced by the Caravan 208 pilot. Unfortunately, this flight ended in an accident in which the pilot and his passenger were killed. At about 11 p.m. on March 1, 2009, a Diamond DA40 crashed into the Pacific Ocean while its pilot was executing an RNAV/GPS approach to runway 14 at Arcata Airport in Arcata/Eureka, Calif. The pilot was on an IFR flight plan.

The pilot rented the airplane at Plant City, Fla., where he had a half-hour ground check and a one-hour flight check. The pilot stated that his destination was Las Vegas, Nev. The first day, the pilot and passenger overnighted in Huntsville, Ala. The second morning, they departed Huntsville at 7:15. The next stop that investigators could identify was Sedona, Ariz., where the aircraft landed to refuel. At 5:30 p.m., the airplane took off for Palmdale, Calif. The pilot overflew Palmdale, however, and instead landed at Bakersfield at 6:41 p.m. The airplane was refueled before it departed for Arcata at 7:36 p.m.




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