Fighting fatigue in pilots – too close to home?

Posted by pt91 at Oct 26, 2010 02:31 PM |
Pilots’ home lives are scrutinised in new University of Leicester study
Fighting fatigue in pilots – too close to home?

Dr Simon Bennett of the University’s Civil Safety and Security Unit, part of the Institute of Lifelong Learning.

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 25 October 2010

A University of Leicester sociologist is to bring a new dimension to improving airline safety by conducting the first in-depth study of pilots’ home lives.

Dr Simon Bennett of the University’s Civil Safety and Security Unit, part of the Institute of Lifelong Learning at Leicester, has been commissioned by the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) to research the lifestyle of the modern commercial airline pilot. The research will investigate what Dr Bennett calls the ‘lived reality’ of the pilot lifestyle. It will describe pilots’ work and home lives in a breadth and depth that will be a first for the airline industry.

Dr Bennett said, “After the 2009 Colgan air crash in the USA, the White House raised concerns over pilot fatigue, specifically the fact that many pilots commute long distances to work, frequently by air over thousands of miles. The US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has been asked to investigate pilot commutes in the USA. We have the same issue in Europe, yet no-one is investigating it.”

The work at the University of Leicester is unique in that it will take into account pilots’ home lives as well as their working routine for the first time. The work will be used to inform European guidelines on flight-time for commercial pilots.

Dr Bennett explained, “Several studies have been made of life on the flight deck. However, no studies have been made of the relationship between a pilot's working and home life. Clearly the two domains interact. 

“The study will produce a holistic picture of the commercial pilot. Stress at work affects a pilot's home life. If the quality of a pilot's home life deteriorates s/he will be less effective at work. In extreme cases, relationships (with partners and children, and even friends) fall apart. 

“The research reflects the Government's interest in the work-life balance. The effective management of stress and fatigue requires that all potential stressors are identified. Stressed and fatigued pilots are less effective than relaxed and well-rested pilots.” 

The research has three elements: first, pilots will keep sleep diaries; secondly, face-to-face interviews will be conducted; and thirdly, a questionnaire will be distributed. Commencing in November 2010 and concluding in May 2011, it will produce a 30,000 word report which BALPA will use to critique current flight and duty-time limitations. 

He adds, “We are hoping to influence the European Commission’s flight-time limitations discussions. Pilots work long hours and are frequently fatigued. For the travelling public, there are obvious safety gains from pilots being less fatigued.” 

Dr Simon Bennett has been investigating the pilot lifestyle for over ten years. He has published numerous books and journal articles on the subject, including his latest book A Sociology of Commercial Flight Crew (Ashgate). Dr Bennett, who has a PhD in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, has worked as a consultant for several airlines, including easyJet and DHL Air. 

Notes to editors: For more information contact:

Dr Simon Bennett

Programme Director,

MSc Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management,

Civil Safety and Security Unit (CSSU)

University of Leicester


Peter Thorley

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