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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Zen Trois, Part Deux: Zen and the Art of Pilot Maintenance—the Sequel

Pilots are such a notoriously picky lot, it’s taking two articles to cover it all.
Sick Happens
While you may think a pilot is a wimp for calling in sick with a slight head cold, who among you want your flight deck to be distracted by the sniffles?  Thought so.  That’s the approach we have to take, too.  By regulations—and common sense—a pilot must be 100%, 100% of the time, in order to safely fly his 300,000-pound beast halfway across the world.  And, safety aside, it’s also about “Charlie Yankee Alpha.”*

Gawd I love my Airbus!
A wonderfully ergonomically-designed cockpit . . .

Even while taxiing, we have to consider the consequences of the slightest fender bender or wing ding; for the FAA will investigate even this minor event.  And the first thing the Inspector would say (After, “I’m from the FAA and I’m here to help you!”) is, “What?  You weren’t 100% and you tried to fly an airplane?  Violation!”
And there goes our career down the lav drain.

Fatigue Happens
Monty Python's "Comfy Chair" torture's got nuthin' on Charles' horrid seat! 
Ever since Charles Lindbergh flew his historic flight in a deliberately uncomfy chair in order to stay awake, Fatigue has been known to be an equally prevalent and far more insidious challenge.  Remember the jet lag that wiped you out for the first three days in Gay Paris?  Imagine the flight crew, whisking back and forth ‘cross “the Pond” from, say, JFK to ROM, several times a month!

. . . and yet Fifi's 1st-Gen. seat gave Lindbergh's a run for the prize for
 "Most Horrid"
Add to that the chronic randomness of the crew’s monthly, weekly or even daily schedule flip-flops from a redeye to an oh-dark-thirty departure, and your body hardly knows whether it’s coming or going.
Gear Up!  Flaps Up!  Zzzz...
NASA has long known about the problem.  The NTSB is quite aware as well.  And, after 50 years of hard-core denial, the FAA is finally getting a clue, too.  Sort of.  Well, nnnnot so much . . . .
Politics Happen
"What?  ATC Controllers sleeping on nap breaks?
I picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue!"

Recent crew rest rule changes, while an improvement, have much further to go.  And, I’m gonna say it, right here:  shame on ex-FAA chief Randy Babbitt for the bobbleheaded insanity of forbidding ATC controllers to nap during breaks!  
"We don't pay people to sleep at work at the FAA," Babbitt huffed to the press. **
Thank you, Mr. FAA!  This is absolute denial of reality in the face of politics!  For, contrary to the FAA’s insistence, pilots and controllers are not automatons.  The body’s biorhythms are well-documented—backed up by dozens of fatigue-related fatal accidents—and woe to the regs for not reflecting that.  As you well know from the late night drive home, your body doesn’t give a damn what the regs say; it’s gonna sleep when it wants.

"My mind clicks on and off. I try letting one eyelid close at a time while I prop the other with my will. But the effect is too much, sleep is winning, my whole body argues dully that nothing, nothing life can attain is quite so desirable as sleep. My mind is losing resolution and control."Charles Lindbergh
Fortunately, international overseas flights are staffed with IRO’s, or International Relief Officers—pilots who fly the cruise portion of the leg—while the primary Captain and FO get some legal shuteye in the onboard bunks before taking over for landing. 

But domestic flight crews don’t have that luxury.  While pilots can and do call in fatigued, they are often under pressure not to, as they could cancel the flight, cancel the flight pay . . . and possibly cancel their job.  Furthermore, it is notoriously difficult to predict when one will actually be fatigued.  

OK, so the hotel fire alarm goes off 30 minutes after you doze off for the 3:30 am show time.  Easy call.  But what about the toddler at home with chronic colic, keeping the pilot-mommy or -daddy up ad nauseum for weeks or months?  Or how about that looming redeye, even if you were able to take that preemptive, post-dinner nappypoo?  
Tough call.

. . . and Sleep Happens
So now we get to the question I know you’ve been dying to ask:  Do pilots nap during flight?  From the Northwest pilots presumably “discussing their schedule” and overshooting MSP, to the exhausted commuter pilots missing ITO, whether intentionally or no, Sleep Happens.  Just like the fabled gear-up landing, there are two types of pilots:  those that have, and those that will.  
In fact, those that have resisted napping during natural circadian times often unintentionally nod off without even their own knowledge.  NASA has labeled this phenomena “microsleep events.”
Yippee!  Airbus finally gets it RIGHT!
(Mmm . . . ahh . . . Zzz . . . J/K!  J/K—off to JFK!!!)
 So, according to what we’ve learned, and despite what former FAA Administrator Ran-denial” Babbitt would have you believe, which do think is safer:  a pilot napping at cruise altitude, or short final?
Those are your ONLY two options . . .
Choose wisely!***
*Cover your a$$!
** Despite reems of research data supporting the contrary, FAA forbids controllers for napping during breaks
***Oh, and PS:  Lest I sound alarmist here, fear not:  as I've posted in the past, it's our butts in the airplane, too, so we ain't gonna push it!!  It's just an ongoing challenge, is all...


  1. I say nap if ya gotta...on cruise control that is:)I'd rather a rested pilot when landing then one that can barely keep their eyes open. Babbit sounds like an egotistical "**ick". Lol!


    1. Well, I won't comment on Babbitt (other than what I've said)…but not only is he a retired airline pilot, he was the head of ALPA (Air Line Pilots' Association, the biggest pilots union in the U.S.!)

      'Nuff said.

      Thanks for the post, Anon!

  2. it...Nuff said.

  3. Whaow Captain Eric, great post!
    So much interesting stuff here, worth to read again and again. (I mean that!)
    Now that you've stated that 'Babbit' was a former airline pilot too it even makes less sense!

    I do know pilots 'nap' Captain Dave from Fl390 talking about the FO looking at 'this stain on his necktie for the past hour' ...
    I'd rather have two fresh pilots sitting in the pointy end of an airliner during landing (which is a critical moment of flight as ofc known to you haha) then two without being abled to focus well. Aviation has never been safer though!

    I have no idea what it feels like if your body is protesting to stay awake while on a intercontinental flight but I've heard of airlines that allow 'controlled naps'... not sure what the little letters read with that rule though.

    Have a great weekend! (or what's left of it!)


    1. Thanks Bas! Good points you bring up. I agree with you; time to change the regs to reflect reality . . . AND SAFETY!!!

      But you're absolutely right. Flying has never been safer!

      Regs aside, pilots use common sense when it comes to maximizing the safety factor. Frankly, I think the FAA is terrified to allow "controlled napping," thinking a political firestorm would rise up, even though it would totally make sense.

      I did have a great weekend, thanks. Now off to PHL!

  4. Thanks, Cap'n for another interesting post. I'm with the controlled naps...sheesh, I wish we could all have those during our work day. For me, usually hits around 2pm... :) I mean, it's hard not to nap, especially when half the students are zzzzzzzz...

    Always enjoy your sense of humour too.

    Take care.

    1. I'm sure it's not YOU that's the problem. But there was this one teacher in college, after my lunch break. Man, I couldn't stay awake!!...

      Thanks for the post ;)

    2. *shock* Who me? Boring? No...NEVER! :) :) :)

      Watch it, buddy...haven't they talked to you about the chalk brush I carry?

      :) Take care, Cap'n

  5. Hey Cap'n E........
    ha ha "S!ck happens...........
    good to destinguish between sick in the head........and just plain ole sick..........
    course I wouldn't know from experience.......right? ;)
    as far as the use of "common sense".........
    "Common Sense"...was kicked to the curb....and in comes..

    Political Correctness...
    zero tolerance....
    cover your own ass...
    press 1 for English...
    class action law suits...
    gravy train...
    too many handicap parking places..
    the 1st and the 15th...
    every one gets a trophy..
    etc etc etc....

    and those in high office making the Big Bucks........don't even have to do their job..........because having to think of what reasonable.......gone too!!!!!!!!!!

    well my stock answer.....when presenting some one with a
    "Don't let nothing but Fear and Common sense hold ya back".......
    or could be....."you gonna believe me or your lying eyes".......LOL
    thats a line from Richard of the funniest comedians of all time!!!!!
    anyway......when was the last time....."Common Sense"....was the reason for a crash.......Mmmmmmmm

    and some of the best sleep I ever got was in 20 minute intervals....!!!!

    hey......So you know Robert Stack!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Nice pic of the two of you together...........
    you look better with short hair...........LOL

    Safe Flying....Capt'n........

    It's common sense to take small power naps.......while flying long hauls....I think............but the PC....which is rotting the world.........
    would never let it be said...ok to take the naps......

    1. Haha good points as usual, getjets!

      Calling in "sick" of problem: "can't see coming to work today" gramma dropped acid and hijacked a school bus full of penguins?

      Yes, the powers that be never let fear and Common Sense get in the way of a "good" Regulation!

      Enjoy those ol' Richard Pryor tapes....;-)

  6. Speaking of calling in sick.............

    it's those who would call in sick, and can barely talk........

    I mean..."BEARLY"!!!!!!

    so then they tell ya.......they can't come to work becasue they have a "Virus" their "Lower Extremities"...Oh boy....

    (plumbing below the belt eh??)........and I remember actually asking ........"Whats that got to do with your voice"???.........Oh the DRAMA.......of it all..........
    Really funny!!!

    You know you still come up as 'Rick'.......?

    are there any 'outstanding'.......Never Mind............LOL

    Take it easy Rick/Eric.......ha ha...........
    You getting your rest............too.........

    1. Ya I've found that Less is More--you don't need to volunteer details and they don't care and don't wanna know--TMI, lol!

      For the life of me can't get that "Rick" changed and don't know why it would come up that way...though it knows more about me than it should...I went by Rick in High School (back when Lincoln was President!)

  7. Nice to meet you ,captain.
    I wanna fly a plane...........with you :).

  8. This is a GREAT post! I really like your blog even though I am ashamed to admit I don't fly much anymore! Saw your funny comment on my blog about the fire pit..wish it was 60 degrees here! We're looking at record heat for so-called winter time. We're now in the 80's. The pictures you post here are also great with the content---good job! I'm going to sign up on your google connect (it will appear as Marcia Doyle). Want to hop over to my site and join? I promise it will keep you chuckling!!

    1. Haha hey Marcia, I thought I had joined, or is this one of your "secret" blogs, lol?! I'll re-up!!

      PS--Our 60 was a brief reprieve. I fully expect the AZ heat to cook right back up again!

  9. I agree with most of your comments here, and I am impressed by your love for the bird!

    The last (and only) time I was sitting on the pilot seat of a little Cessna I guess it was, I lost several minutes counting the dial faces or whatever they are called in the panel. After that I know I prefer to fly those monsters in the Avatar movie! At least they seem to "connect" to the pilot... which is the closer thing I saw to sex with your... let's call bird!! :))

    1. Haha we all have our fantasies, untony!

      And flying has been likened to sex many times over the years!!

      I'm with you: I'd trade my Fifi in for a flying dragon any day, lol!


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