Fatigue, the hidden enemy….

It was the third time.  The three bright green lights were glowing in the dark. And still I was not sure of their meaning.  The GPWS announced “500” and I asked for second time to my first officer. – Is the landing checklist completed?  He looked at me with a surprised face and answered; …..yes, already…

The reversers made their loud noise while the aircraft was decelerating on the runway, my colleague announced:  “80 knots” and meanwhile I was stowing them I was thinking: – When was the exact moment we touched down on the runway?

It was like if the period of time between the moment we were on final and the touchdown had disappeared.

An internal voice said: …you are tired.

My schedule that month had been tight, added to that winter season in the south of Argentina is not an easy one, always plagued with after sunset fogs. Diversion alternates are often hundreds of miles away, which make fuel decisions always critical.

Fatigue is a hidden enemy and its danger lies in that it is difficult to recognize that we are fatigued.  Its origin may come from a variety of sources, like boredom, inadequate sleep, stress, drugs, medications and so on. Not my intention to make a deep explanation of fatigue and its causes, simply because I am not the right person to do it.

Regulations are clear about pilot’s fatigue; if you feel fatigued avoid flying.  But in real life we find sometimes that is not easy to simply walk away from work compromises, or obligations.  A meeting waiting many miles away, a Gf birthday or wedding anniversary at home can place a tremendous stress on a pilot.  When Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten pushed the thrust levers of KLM Boeing 747 causing the deadliest accident in aviation history he was going back home for his wedding anniversary, was he thinking on that when he started the take off roll?

When fatigue strikes, it comes the moment to use all available resources to help accomplish the task.

If you fly single pilot and feel fatigued, don’t fly alone, look for other professional pilot to ride with you and help with radio communications, checklists and so on, even flying the airplane for you if he is qualified to do so.  Sometimes even a distracting conversation in the appropriate moment can help to relax.

If you are flying a multi crew aircraft, share your concerns with your colleague in the cockpit, just a phrase like “please, watch on me because I am tired…” can raise the defenses to avoid a dangerous situation.  Sharing your concerns is also part of a good CRM.

None can blame you for being tired.   Don’t try to show that you can do it, if you discover later that you cannot, will be too late..



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