International Civil Aviation Organisation ICAO 2019 75 years of connecting the world
The theme of 2019 World Civil Aviation Day is to share how aviation plays a role in your work, your travels and more…
Like any expatriate, medical doctor and mother of children studying abroad, aviation played a big role in getting me closer top my family back home and attending conferences and meeting professionals from all over the world. With more options and more direct flights, visiting my kids have never been an impossible mission even when they were 16 flying hours away.
Like everybody else, aviation helped me explore the world, meet other cultures, celebrate special occasions in different destinations or just unwind with a breath-taking view in a relaxing island or mountain.
As an aviation medical examiner making sure pilots, air traffic controllers or other aircrew are medically fit to exercise the privilege of their licenses, aviation made me a better medical consultant with more knowledge, legal expertise, common sense and empathy to evaluate difficult cases.
One of the most challenging conditions in Aviation Medicine today is fatigue/ sleep deprivation.
With more flights to cover and less trained aircrew, the minimum legally required rest is unfortunately becoming the maximum rest aviation employees can get, making work/ life balance almost impossible and becoming sometimes a significant aviation safety issue.
In a recent study, work organisation was a determining factor for decreased work ability, especially related to rest and its influence on the sleep of the pilots.
Sleep deprivation is not too different from alcohol intoxication when it comes to judgment impairment and cognitive functions.
The Federal Aviation Authority have issued some lifestyle recommendations to prevent Fatigue in aircrew.
• Consume alcohol or caffeine 3-4 hours before going to bed.
• Eat a heavy meal just before bedtime.
• Take work to bed.
• Exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime. While working out promotes a healthy lifestyle, it shouldn’t be done too close to bedtime.
• Use sleeping pills (prescription or otherwise).
• Be mindful of the side effects of certain medications, even over-the-counter medications – drowsiness or impaired alertness is a concern.
• Consult a physician to diagnose and treat any medical conditions causing sleep problems.
• Create a comfortable sleep environment at home. Adjust heating and cooling as needed. Get a comfortable mattress.
• When traveling, select hotels that provide a comfortable environment.
• Get into the habit of sleeping eight hours per night. When needed, and if possible, nap during the day, but limit the nap to less than 30 minutes. Longer naps produce sleep inertia, which is counterproductive.
• Try to turn in at the same time each day. This establishes a routine and helps you fall asleep quicker.
• If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, get up and try an activity that helps induce sleep (watch non-violent TV, read, listen to relaxing music, etc).
• Get plenty of rest and minimise stress before a flight. If problems preclude a good night’s sleep, rethink the flight and postpone it accordingly.
It is the aircrew’s responsibility to make sure he or she are giving rest and sleep a priority and it is their right to report fatigue when they feel unfit to work.
It is the airline and airport responsibility to work up rosters and have enough staff and a good Employee Assistance Program in place to give pilots and air traffic controllers the best chances for a good rest.
Last but not least, it’s the civil aviation authorities responsibilities to make sure that Safety and Wellbeing of aircrew are not compromised by the financial strains on commercial airlines.