"I didn't sleep enough last night. One hour -- it's not enough," the pilot, Marc Dubois, is recorded as saying one hour into the flight, reports the the French news magazine Le Point. Dubois was taking a scheduled nap when the plane was whipped by a tropical storm, and he reportedly took more than minute to respond to his co-pilot's calls for help.
Fatigue is no isolated issue in the aviation industry, where pilots frequently have long and irregular shifts and short rest periods, in addition to crossing time zones. Last year, a National Sleep Foundation survey of transportation workers found that 1 in 5 pilots said that they'd made a "serious" error due to sleep deprivation. That figure has cropped up before; more than 1 in 5 pilots raised the issue of fatigue to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System.
A 2006 survey of 162 short-haul commercial pilots in the United Kingdom found that three-quarters reported severe fatigue, and the vast majority said that the problem of fatigue was worse than two years before.
After a regional airline flight from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo, N.Y., crashed in 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration decided to change its policy based on the latest fatigue science. The new regulations, which will take effect next year, expand a pilot's minimum rest period between shifts from 8 hours to 10, and require pilots to have at least 30 consecutive hours off, once a week. All pilots must also affirmatively state whether they are fit for duty before takeoff.
"This is a major safety achievement," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at the time.
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