A report by the Flight Safety Foundation suggests that allowing pilots to rest during flights might increase overall safety by reducing pilot fatigue.
Fatigue among pilots is often cited as a dangerous problem in the airline industry.
The industry and the government agencies that regulate it have taken steps to reduce it, but many pilots and experts are convinced that the current situation is still problematic, according to a report by the US-based Flight Safety Foundation.
In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration in the US imposed the first new pilot-rest rules in 60 years, limiting overall on-duty time and flight hours per day depending on when a pilot’s shift starts.
The rules also established a process by which pilots could report fatigue without being disciplined by their airlines or government.
Nevertheless, most pilots take off, fly and land successfully, and when they do not it is difficult to determine with certainty that the cause was pilot fatigue.
According to the study, titled Controlled Rest on the Flight Deck: A resource for operators, a possible solution is to let pilots take naps in the cockpit.
It is widely known that a short nap can improve a pilot’s alertness. Some planes, such as those commonly used on long international flights, have beds their pilots and other crew can use, but smaller planes don’t have enough space.
In the US, only flights that are longer than eight hours require an additional pilot to be on board so one pilot at a time can rotate out for rest. On shorter flights, the country’s regulations expect both pilots to remain alert for the entire length of the flight.
Some countries, including Canada and Australia, allow pilots to nap in the cockpit. The official procedure is called “controlled rest in position” (CRIP) and has established policies and procedures.
In general, the research indicates that people are less willing to fly when they know a pilot might be allowed to sleep at the controls, and women are less willing than men. However, the research also shows that explaining to people how better-rested pilots make a flight safer could help more people feel comfortable flying in a plane where the CRIP procedure is allowed.
Among pilots, 70% favoured allowing CRIP.
On average, all participants who completed the survey felt that naps of 45 minutes should be approved, which was closely related to the 40 minutes suggested by scientific evidence.
So far, Air Canada and Qantas crews have not registered widespread complaints about abuse of the practice.