The FAA is paying renewed attention to human fatigue in aviation, particularly in air transport operations. This issue has troubled the NTSB to such an extent that it has appeared on its annual “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements” every year since the list was first published in 1990. This past June, the FAA held a symposium in Vienna, Va. About a week before the symposium, the NTSB had issued a safety recommendation calling on the FAA to develop guidance for operators to establish fatigue management systems and continually assess the effectiveness of those systems, including their ability to improve alertness, eliminate performance errors and prevent incidents/accidents.
FAA Acting Administrator Robert Sturgell addressed the symposium, pointing out that current FAA regulations only include the mandatory scheduling of crew rest periods. There’s nothing dealing with fatigue mitigation. “We like to think that not getting enough sleep, working tired, being a little drowsy—that they’re just all part of how Americans live,” Sturgell said. “We don’t like to think that fatigue can be linked to catastrophe, but there’s some truth in that.” The controllers union has been telling the FAA for some time that fatigue is an issue among its members, some of whom have been working assigned overtime and six-day weeks for years. Sturgell didn’t specify how the FAA will address fatigue—whether it will limit itself to being a facilitator for industry efforts or embark on a new round of rulemaking.