Commercial airline crashes have a variety of causes but in some cases, human error as a result of pilot fatigue may lead to stalls and other engine failures that result in loss of life. The National Center for Biotechnology Information notes that fatigue plays a significant role in many airline accidents, with more than 20% of crashes involving overtired pilots.
While getting sufficient rest is key for any pilot, there are a few factors that may affect their ability to get proper rest and lead to dangerous levels of fatigue.
Not enough nightly sleep
Restorative nightly sleep can help pilots feel alert and rested for their flights, but when sleep gets interrupted due to personal problems or insomnia, this is sometimes difficult. Pilots who only get brief spates of sleep during the night may feel distracted, experience brain fog and their reaction times may slow. Because piloting a commercial aircraft sometimes requires making quick decisions, especially in an emergency, a well-rested pilot can mean the difference between a safe landing and a crash.
A heavy workload
When airlines experience a shortage of qualified pilots, those who already have experienced may find themselves working longer hours or flying more often. The demands of commercial airlines are often extremely rigorous, and this workload can lead to fatigue and burnout.
When pilots must adjust their sleeping schedule to accommodate night flights, this can interrupt their regular sleep patterns. When pilots find themselves flying during the day one shift and overnight the next, it can affect their natural circadian rhythm and lead to fatigue.
Pilot fatigue can also cause a reduction in job performance. Many airlines remain aware of the issue and strive to solve it so they might reduce crash risk.