We talk about fatigue a lot. It gets a little tiring.

And yet, we are still suffering from it. Here is Bob’s guide to handling fatigue with a little tale of how he learned how (or rather why) he needed to.



Once upon a time… 

Bob was flying back from Calcutta. It was the middle of the night and it was a turnaround flight.

Bob was pretty new in the company so wasn’t sure how to deal with the fact he was really tired. He was also worried that if he took in flight rest he might snore really loudly. So when the Captain asked if Bob would mind if he took some rest Bob said “Sure thing! No worries!” but Bob thought “Uh oh! I am so tired too!”

The Captain went to sleep, and Bob started to feel his eyelids growing heavy, his mind wandering, his attention drifting. He turned the cold air on full blast and took another gulp of his coffee.

When Bob started to feel his head nodding, his eyes closing, his concentration focused solely on staying away he sat upright, forced himself to count stars, to not fall sleep… not fall sleep… not fall asleep… not fall a-zzzzzzzz

Bob woke up as his head bounced off the centre console, a large red welt forming across his forehead. The Captain woke up too though so, you might say it ended well…

*based on a true story



What Bob learnt

Bob learnt a lot of things from his incident. The first one was that understanding fatigue, knowing about circadian rhythms and being able to list the different stages of sleep did absolutely knowing to stop him falling asleep and head butting the airplane.

Here are the thoughts that ran through his head as it connected with the console:

  • FTLs don’t help. They should, but don’t so you do have to do somethings yourself to avoid/fix fatigue.
  • Coffee can help, but doesn’t last long and doesn’t fix the issue
  • If you are tired, take some controlled rest and take it before you get so tired you start nodding off
  • Don’t just ask “How do I feel now?” also ask “How will I feel in a few hours or if I have to deal with an emergency?”

Some more stuff Bob learned

In more detail (that might actually useful for you).

  • Avoiding fatigue in the first place.
    Avoiding fatigue can be tough. Busy rosters, timezones, ‘life’ getting in the way… it all adds up.

    Now, you’ve heard this before, and most of us hate hearing it, but eating well, exercising, drinking water and managing your sleep (when you can) does really help. Not totally, but a bit.

  • File fatigue reports.
    These are AS important as any other safety sort of report. They are reviewed by your operator and fatigue does have to be reported to the authority. 

  • Don’t fly fatigued.
    Yep, sucks because we all know the pressures you can sometimes face – angry employers, wanting to get home, just not realising how damn tired you are going to get (and always the way – that day will be the day something happens right at the end!)

    So you have to ask yourself “am I going to be ok in an hour/5 hours/10 hours/if my engine explodes and I have to try and fly this thing somewhere safely?” and that can be really hard to answer, especially when other pressures are factoring into it as well.

    Which is why:
  • If you’re up in the air and fatigued, what can you actually do about it?
    You can’t go back in time and do all the good stuff listed above to avoid getting fatigued in flight, so you’re going to have to do something about it.

    Turn the temperature down, go for a walk, have a coffee, drink some water, turn the lights up, find a task to keep you alert.

    Not working? Take some controlled rest.

  • Let’s talk about controlled rest.
    Controlled rest needs to be done right. That means informing the cabin crew, checking your co-pilot is alert and doesn’t need to head out of the flight deck, and probably giving a mini briefing on important stuff that might come up in the next hour of flight (weather, airspace issues etc).

    Controlled rest should be 45 minutes with a 15 minute ‘wake up’ period at the end so you don’t have to go from snoozing to immediately trying to work out what’s going on.

    Turn the speaker on (on your side) with 121.5 only. Put an eye mask on, recline your seat, sleep. The other pilot should put their headset on, dim the lights, but make sure they are able to stay alert.

Can anyone help?

Report fatigue concerns directly to your authority, or a union, if you feel you aren’t getting heard in your operator.

You can log it with us too (we’ll keep it absolutely anonymous) but if we can collate fatigue reports and spot trends then maybe we can take it up online for you. After all, we ain’t an airline, an authority or anyone in particular at all… which means we can say the stuff we want to say, to whoever we want, however want. Although, they probably won’t listen.




  • IFALPA on Fatigue: The IFALPA/IATA/ICAO official FRMS manual can be discovered here.
  • PILOTS WHO ASK WHY: A Guide on How to Manage Fatigue and Survive Nightshifts. Read it here.

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