Airline pilots who commute hundreds of miles to work might show up too exhausted to perform their jobs safely. That concern is raised by a National Research Council report that found that one in five airline pilots lives at least 750 miles from work.
As the Associated Press reports, the study’s researchers looked at the home addresses of more than 25,000 pilots and evaluated the distances they live from the airline bases where they begin flights.
The NRC study was ordered by Congress in response to a regional airline crash that killed 50 people in February, 2009, near Buffalo, N.Y.
In that crash, the plane’s co-pilot had traveled overnight from her home near Seattle to Newark, N.J., to make what turned out to be the tragic flight. The plane’s captain, who regularly commuted from Florida to Newark, had spent the night before the flight in an airport crew lounge.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the accident was caused by pilot errors and said it was likely that both pilots were suffering from fatigue.
The new NRC report noted that its findings have limitations. For instance, many pilots list residences hundreds of miles from their base, but do not commute from those addresses on a regular basis. Or a pilot might fly across the country to an airline’s base but then spend the night in a hotel and come to work well-rested.
“There are lots of stories and anecdotes but no systematic information,” said Indiana University professor Clinton Oster Jr., chairman of the study panel.
Still, as HealthDay reports, the report urged the Federal Aviation Administration to find ways to reduce the safety risks of commuting, and said pilots should plan their activities to ensure that they will not be awake for more than 16 hours by the time their work day is complete. Also, it recommends that pilots should sleep at least six hours before reporting for work.
Jean Medina, a spokewoman for the airline industry group the Air Transport Association, reponded that, “We believe the airlines have a responsibility of maintaining schedules that enable proper rest, and pilots have a responsibility to arrive to work rested and ready to fly.”