Australian and EASA based pilots’ duty schedules, stress, sleep difficulties, fatigue, wellbeing, symptoms of depression and anxiety

Elsevier, Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Volume 13, March 2022
Venus M., grosse Holtforth M.

Recent research has reported widespread high levels of fatigue among pilots. Pilot fatigue can affect their performance and has become a threat to flight safety. Objective: This study examines whether different flight time limitations (FTL) and rosters of EASA-based and Australian pilots were associated with different levels of stress, sleep difficulties, fatigue levels, symptoms of depression or anxiety and wellbeing. Method: 192 EASA-based and 180 Australian pilots completed a cross-sectional online survey, which asked for their schedules, stress, sleep problems, fatigue, wellbeing, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. These variables were compared for the groups of EASA-based and Australian pilots. Findings: Although EASA based and Australian pilots were scheduled for only 57–62% of maximum duty and flight hours, 71.8% EASA-based vs. 77% Australian pilots reported severe or high fatigue. Significant depression symptoms were reported by 17.2% Australian and 18% EASA-based pilots, 7% pilots reported significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Australian pilots reported more demanding rosters, significantly more sleep problems and significantly lower wellbeing. Conclusions: Present regulations and FTL likely could not prevent high fatigue levels among EASA based and Australian pilots. Both groups were equally fatigued, although Australian pilots reported more demanding rosters. Pilots of both groups reported the same levels of stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms, while Australian pilots’ sleep and wellbeing were significantly more impaired. These results suggest that fatigue should not be regarded as an isolated problem for flight-safety. Fatigue is closely related to pilots’ physical and mental health, which may be at risk in the long run.