Who is responsible for fitness for duty in the Flight Department?
NBAA has identified a set of foundations for safety in Business Aviation operations, including Professionalism, Safety Leadership, Technical Excellence, Risk Management and Fitness for Duty. Over the next several months, Mario Pierobon assesses these elements, beginning with a closer look at Fitness for Duty.
In recent years, thanks (in part) to the affirmation of Fatigue Risk Management (FRM) systems within scheduled commercial air transport, the Business Aviation industry has been paying increasing attention to the issue of flight crew fatigue.
Fatigue significantly impairs Fitness for Duty of pilots and mechanics, and carries the potential for unsafe operational outcomes within Flight Departments.
To tackle the problem, it’s vital to understand that Fitness for Duty is a two-way street. The Flight Department and its personnel each need to take responsibility and be proactive in implementing appropriate measures.
To a large extent, successfully managing the risk of fatigue depends on individual efforts of Flight Department personnel to manage their own fitness – and understand individual levels of fatigue.
There’s already a wealth of knowledge available within industry publications concerning the scientific principles for Fatigue Risk Management (we won’t repeat them here), but it should suffice to say that flight crews and mechanics, given the safety sensitive role they have at work, should make every effort to minimize fatigue in the workplace through:
Everything that can contribute to the level of fatigue of flight crews that’s beyond the personal lifestyle of staff should be the responsibility of the Flight Department…
There is currently no mandatory requirement for FRM implementation in Business Aviation, yet fatigue is recognized as an issue and corporate flight departments should be proactive about the subject.
Here we focus on three high-level practices that proactive operators wanting to target the risk of fatigue should have in place.
Practice #1 - Promoting Wellbeing: There is no point in implementing a FRM system if employee wellbeing is not actively promoted within the Flight Department. Employers should show employees that their wellbeing is of prime importance, which can be demonstrated practically in various ways – whether through subsidized memberships at fitness centers, memos sent out recurrently, or other literature reinforcing the importance and principles of Fitness for Duty.
The message that the Flight Department cares about employee wellbeing and expects them to look after their health must be conveyed.
Practice #2 – Making Realistic Demands: Another important practice to sustain effective FRM implementation is avoiding unrealistic demands on employee productivity. Simply put, flight crews and mechanics are not lemons to be squeezed. Work schedules should ensure that workloads are manageable and that adequate rest levels can be achieved.
By its very nature Business Aviation does not run like the Scheduled Airlines. Business Aviation passengers can be unpredictable because appointments take longer – or shorter – than planned, and changes arise at the last-minute. Thus operational buffers (such as the availability of additional crew members on-duty or on-call) must be deployed.
Practice #3 – Acting on Issues: The last practice for successful FRM implementation requires the Flight Department to act on identified issues. Data collected as part of FRM may imply a need for significant change (i.e., with regard to crew scheduling).
It is essential that Flight Departments are not change-resistant. In the safety business, employees greatly value seeing changes take place after issues have been raised from the line environment.
While operational changes may imply higher costs, there is an added benefit in the increased employee commitment that stems from seeking needed corrections and acting promptly on worthy suggestions. A handy by-product of such FRM implementation is increased productivity within safety margins.