It is generally acknowledged in aviation that fatigue is a risk. After all, who hasn’t been taught the IMSAFE checklist? It’s easy to find guidelines for establishing duty and rest periods; NBAA and Flight Safety Foundation both have a free guide for pilots. More recently, the emphasis on fatigue has led flight departments to consider fatigue management for their whole operation, including maintenance and dispatch.
However, the reality in business aviation is that you will not always be able to adhere to the duty times you set. It’s important to track any deviations so that you can operate in a real-world environment without incurring unnecessary risk.
Here are five reasons why you should be tracking extensions to duty.
1. Put a Number On Fatigue
Tired of tracking your fatigue? Failing to document your extensions may actually be causing you a lot more headache than you think.
Every time you file an Extension to Duty Time Form or you report an occurrence, you’re collecting data. Looking back you may not remember the exact conditions of each situation or how many times such an incident occurred, but with forms you don’t have to.
Having that objective data is paramount for the long-term safety of your department. Above just having those records available, is being able to use that data when you feel fatigue may impact the safety of the operation.
The best way to track extensions is through filling out form fields that are set, which establish a comparison baseline so you can identify and easily analyze common factors. To capture other important data that may be unique to a particular situation your form can include a free text field.
2. Respond To The Cause, Not The Symptom
We all take notice when mistakes happen, but how often do you ask yourself why they happened? There are likely trends between those errors and an extended duty day that you may not have noticed.
Start by identifying the triggers that often lead to extensions to duty. When planning future trips, keep those triggers in mind and take extra caution to avoid the issue from ever happening in the first place. If possible, reduce the impact on your crews by adjusting departure times or your techs and dispatchers by adjusting rest times and scheduling.
Fatigue can be a barometer to underlying issues in the operation. If extended duty days and the fatigue are occurring frequently, it may be time to take a closer look at how your organization schedules trips, maintenance and other activities.
3. Start Tracking, Start Changing
If you want to start implementing real safety-related changes into your flight department you need to have data. When it comes to fatigue, an Extension to Duty Time Form is a good place to start.
Sit down with your team and determine what the acceptable maximum duty day is for your department. From then on, use the Extension to Duty Time Form to document instances where a crewmember’s duty day falls outside the established maximums.
Tracking these extensions will allow you to see how often you are exceeding your duty times. As you begin to track the frequency of your extensions, you will be able to develop trends that could link fatigue to other safety-related issues. Identifying these trends will allow you to make quick and effective decisions about your department, and will keep your operation running smoothly.
4. Identify Long-Term Operational Implications
There are many implications of consistently extending duty days in a flight department.
Of course, the perceived work life balance of your crew and the associated financial obligations of increased flight or maintenance can start to weigh on a department over time. But these issues all fall second to the increased risk associated with each mission performed during an extended duty day.
Tracking and maintaining an accurate record of extended duty days will allow you to reevaluate your flight department as a whole to see if your extensions are becoming commonplace. If so, an overall change to your department is necessary in order to reduce the number of risky trips being flown or fatigued personnel performing maintenance procedures and scheduling functions.
5. Evaluate Corrections and Mitigations
As a part of your SMS, it’s essential that submitted forms, mitigation strategies, and the effectiveness of your overall fatigue management program is periodically reviewed. In addition, countermeasures should be applied after duty extensions are flagged. Once corrections are implemented, review the changes to see if they are effective in reducing extensions to duty. If the answer is Yes, then congratulations! You have just enhanced the safety culture of your operation.
The NTSB and FAA regularly address and update information for pilot flight times and rest periods and fatigue issues for all members of an organization. While government agencies can help mitigate the risks of pilot fatigue through education and fatigue management programs, the ultimate responsibility of fatigue management lies with operators.
AviationManuals can provide pilots and flight departments assistance with:
- Establishing duty days and rest periods appropriate to your operation, as well as procedures for extension to duty days and procedures related to fatigue mitigation. These can include considerations for additional duties (special projects, administrative or office duties, etc.), approvals for extension to duty days, and conditions under which approval may be granted.
- Electronic form tracking of extension to duty days via our online service and iPad app. This allows pilots and flight operators easy tracking, maintenance, and review of duty extensions. Separate forms tailored for flight and maintenance are available.