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NASA Human Systems Integration Division researchers publish results of a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on U.S commercial pilots
(May 12, 2022)
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the aviation industry. While reduced flying capacity may intuitively translate to reduced fatigue risk by way of fewer flights and less time in the cockpit, the actual impact of the pandemic on pilot fatigue is still not clear.

In order to better understand some of these impacts, researchers from NASA's Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory surveyed US commercial airline pilots in late 2020 and early 2021 to assess the impact of COVID-19 on pilot schedules and fatigue during the pandemic.

As expected, most pilots reported reduced flight and duty hours compared to pre-pandemic levels, which itself caused pilots to lose currency due to the decrease in flight time, compounded by limited access to training facilities.

The survey also found that pilots were in fact getting less sleep on workdays in late 2020. Consequently, frequency of sleepiness on days off and in-flight increased in late 2020, with 54% of pilots reporting an increase in in-flight sleepiness. Although sleep levels recovered to pre-pandemic levels in early 2021, sleep duration on work days consistently fell short of sleep need both prior to and during the pandemic.

Pilots highlighted several factors which impacted their sleep and job performance, including limited access to nutritional food while working, reduced access to exercise facilities during layovers, increased stress due to job insecurity and health concerns, increased distractions and workload, and changes to scheduling including long periods of inactivity and increased unpredictability of flight operations.

Ultimately, despite an overall reduction in flights in late 2020, COVID-19 still led to increased pilot sleepiness on days off and in-flight. These risks will need to be monitored as the industry continues to navigate its way back to pre-pandemic levels of operation.

To see the report, please click here.
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Curator: Phil So
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Last Updated: October 13, 2021