Fatigue, Schedules, Sleep, and Sleepiness in U.S. Commercial Pilots During COVID-19

Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2022 May 1;93(5):433-441. doi: 10.3357/AMHP.6031.2022.


INTRODUCTION: COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the aviation industry. While reduced flying capacity may intuitively translate to reduced fatigue risk by way of fewer flights and duty hours, the actual impact of the pandemic on pilot fatigue is unknown.METHODS: We surveyed U.S. commercial airline pilots in late 2020 (N = 669) and early 2021 (N = 156) to assess the impact of COVID-19 on schedules and fatigue during the pandemic.RESULTS: Overall, pilots reported reduced flight and duty hours compared to prepandemic. Average sleep on workdays was slightly shorter in late 2020 (6.87 ± 1.14 h) and recovered to prepandemic levels in early 2021 (6.95 ± 1.11 h). Similarly, the frequency of sleepiness on days off and in-flight increased in late 2020, with 54% of pilots reporting an increase in in-flight sleepiness, then returned to prepandemic levels in early 2021. The use of in-flight sleepiness countermeasures remained the same across assessed time points. Pilots highlighted several factors which impacted their sleep and job performance, including limited access to nutritional food during duty days and layovers, reduced access to exercise facilities during layovers, increased stress due to job insecurity and health concerns, increased distractions and workload, and changes to scheduling.DISCUSSION: Despite a reduction in flights and duty days, COVID-19 led to increased sleepiness on days off and in flight, potentially due to the negative impact of lack of access to essential needs and heightened stress on sleep. Operators need to monitor the change in these COVID-19 related risks as the industry returns to full service.Hilditch CJ, Flynn-Evans EE. Fatigue, schedules, sleep, and sleepiness in U.S. commercial pilots during COVID-19. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2022; 93(5):433-441.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Fatigue / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pilots*
  • Sleep
  • Sleepiness
  • Work Schedule Tolerance