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Fitness for Flight

Introduction:

  • In addition to obtaining a medical certificate determining overall fitness for flight, it is an important self-evaluation that every pilot must conduct prior to any flight operation
  • Aircraft accident statistics show that pilots should be conducting preflight checklists on themselves as well as their aircraft for pilot impairment contributes to many more accidents than failures of aircraft systems
  • Checklists such as the "IM SAFE" and "PAVE" checklists provide a self check on our fitness to fly on any given day

"IM SAFE" Checklist:

  • The IM-SAFE checklist is designed to make you check yourself as any of these factors individually or in combination, significantly degrade decision making and flying abilities
    • Illness Do I have any symptoms?
    • Medication Have I been taking prescription over-the-counter drugs?
    • Stress Am I under psychological pressure from the job? Do I have money, health, or family problems?
    • Alcohol Have I been drinking within 8 hours? Within 24 hours?
    • Fatigue Am I tired and not adequately rested?
    • Eating/Emotion Have I eaten enough of the proper foods to keep adequately nourished during the entire flight? Is my head in the right place?
  • Illness:

    • Even a minor illness suffered in day-to-day living can seriously degrade performance of many piloting tasks vital to safe flight
    • Illness can produce fever and distracting symptoms that can impair judgment, memory, alertness, and the ability to make calculations
      • Although symptoms from an illness may be under adequate control with a medication, the medication itself may decrease pilot performance
    • Sinus block can seriously damage ears and nasal passage (could lose medical)
    • Pilots should not fly until free from all illness
      • The pilot should contact an Aviation Medical Examiner for any further advice
  • Medications:

    • Pilot performance can be seriously degraded by both prescribed and over-the-counter medications, as well as by the medical conditions for which they are taken
    • Many medications, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, strong pain relievers, and cough-suppressant preparations, have primary effects that may impair judgment, memory, alertness, coordination, vision, and the ability to make calculations
    • Others, such as antihistamines, blood pressure drugs, muscle relaxants, and agents to control diarrhea and motion sickness, have side effects that may impair the same critical functions
    • Any medication that depresses the nervous system, such as a sedative, tranquilizer or antihistamine, can make a pilot much more susceptible to hypoxia
    • FAR 91.17 prohibits pilots from performing crew-member duties while using any medication that affects the faculties in any way contrary to safety
      • The safest rule is not to fly as a crew-member while taking any medication, unless approved to do so by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
      • The pilot should contact an Aviation Medical Examiner for any further advice
  • Instrument Flying Handbook. Figure 1-10, Performance and Stress
    Figure 1: Instrument Flying Handbook,
    Performance and Stress
  • Stress:

    • Stress is the body's response to demands placed upon it
    • Pressures of everyday living can occupy thought process to block out alertness in the cockpit in subtle ways
    • Difficulties, particularly at work, can occupy thought processes enough to markedly decrease alertness
      • Distraction can so interfere with judgment that unwarranted risks are taken, such as flying into deteriorating weather conditions to keep on schedule
      • Stress and fatigue (see below) can be an extremely hazardous combination
    • Initially it can actually provide a heightened awareness and increase in performance
    • It is important that when you reach your limit (which EVERYONE has) that you call it appropriately
    • Continuous additions of stress will result in a decrease in performance which interfere with judgment that result in unwarranted risks being taken
    • Most pilots do not leave stress "on the ground" and therefore, when more than usual difficulties are being experienced, a pilot should consider delaying flight until these difficulties are satisfactorily resolved
    • Additionally, some in flight occurrences can add to the stress creating an even worse problem
    • Stress and fatigue can be a deadly combination
    • Indicators of excessive stress often show as:
      • Emotional: denial, suspicion, paranoia, agitation, restlessness, or defensiveness
      • Physical: results in acute fatigue
      • Behavioral: sensitivity to criticism, tendency to be argumentative, arrogance, and hostility
    • Techniques that can help reduce stress:
      1. Become knowledgeable about stress
      2. Take a realistic self-assessment (See the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge)
      3. Take a systematic approach to problem solving
      4. Develop a lifestyle that will buffer against the effects of stress
      5. Practice behavior management techniques
      6. Establish and maintain a strong support network
    • Good flight deck stress management begins with good life stress management:
      • Avoid situations that distract from flying the aircraft
      • Reduce flight deck workload to reduce stress levels
      • If a problem occurs, remain calm
      • Become thoroughly familiar with the aircraft, its operation, and emergency procedures
      • Know and respect personal limits
      • If flying adds stress, either stop flying or seek professional help to manage stress within acceptable limits
  • Alcohol:

    • Extensive research has provided a number of facts about the hazards of alcohol consumption and flying:
      • As little as one ounce of liquor, one bottle of beer or four ounces of wine can impair flying skills, with the alcohol consumed in these drinks being detectable in the breath and blood for at least 3 hours
      • Even after the body completely metabolizes a moderate amount of alcohol, a pilot can still be severely impaired for many hours by hangover
      • There is no way of increasing the destruction of alcohol or alleviating a hangover
      • Alcohol renders a pilot much more susceptible to disorientation and hypoxia
    • A consistently high alcohol related fatal aircraft accident rate serves to emphasize that alcohol and flying are a potentially lethal combination
    • FAR 91.17 prohibits pilots from performing crew-member duties:
      • For at least 8 hrs after last drink ("bottle to throttle")
      • While under the influence of alcohol (possibly greater than 8 hours)
      • While having an alcoholic concentration of 0.04 or greater in the blood or breath specimen
        • Concentration means grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or grams per 210 liters of breath
      • Therefore, an excellent rule is to allow at least 12 to 24 hours between "bottle and throttle," depending on the amount of alcoholic beverage consumed
    • Except in an emergency, no pilot of a civil aircraft may allow a person who appears to be intoxicated or who demonstrates by manner or physical indications that the individual is under the influence of drugs (except a medical patient under proper care) to be carried in that aircraft
    • A crew member shall:
      • On request of a law enforcement officer, submit to a test to indicate alcohol concentration in the blood or breath
      • Furnish to the FAA or Administrator, upon their request, the results or authorize its release of tests taken within 4 hours after acting or attempting to act as a crew member
        • Any test information obtained by the Administrator under paragraph (c) or (d) of this section may be evaluated in determining a person's qualifications for any airman certificate or possible violations of this chapter and may be used as evidence in any legal proceeding under section 602, 609, or 901 of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958
    • Under 14 CFR 61.15, all pilots must send a Notification Letter (MS Word) to FAA’s Security and Investigations Division within 60 calendar days of the effective date of an alcohol-related conviction or administrative action
  • Fatigue:

    • Fatigue continues to be one of the most treacherous hazards to flight safety, as it may not be apparent to a pilot until serious errors are made
    • There are no real ways to measure your level of fatigue
    • Fatigue produces a decline in a variety of measures of performance similar to the effects of alcohol intoxication and other substances which affect mentation
    • High level mental activities such as complex decision making and planning suffer most, whereas simple well-practiced skills are less sensitive to fatigue
    • Described as either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term)
      • Acute Fatigue:
        • Normal occurrence of everyday living
        • The tiredness felt from physical/mental strain, emotional pressure, immobility/monotony, lack of sleep
        • Coordination and alertness can be GREATLY reduced
        • Adequate rest, regular exercise, and proper nutrition prevent acute fatigue
        • Signs of acute fatigue:
          • Misplacing items during the preflight
          • Leaving material (pencils, charts in the planning area
          • Missing radio calls
          • Answering calls improperly (read-backs)
          • Improper tuning of frequencies
        • Acute fatigue is prevented by adequate rest and sleep, as well as by regular exercise and proper nutrition
      • Chronic:
        • Occurs when there is not enough time for full recovery between periods of acute fatigue
        • Performance continues to fall off, and judgment becomes impaired so that unwarranted risks may be taken
        • The underlying cause is generally not rest-related and may have deeper points of origin
        • Chronic fatigue is a combination of both physiological problems and psychological issues
          • Can be caused by financial, home life, or job related stress
        • Recovery from chronic fatigue requires a prolonged period of rest
    • Circadian Rhythms:
      • Sleep is the body's mechanism of restoring the fatigued brain to peak energy and performance
      • Sleep architecture is complex, and consists of different stages of activity (REM and non-REM sleep)
      • Sleep needs are genetically determined; most people require 8 to 8 14 hours sleep/night
      • Circadian ("about-a-day") rhythms govern all activities of the body, and are synchronized with daytime light exposure and activity levels
      • Sleep induction, maintenance, and termination are tied to circadian rhythms
        • The effect of the alerting circadian rhythm is to boost the brain's alertness during the day while fatigue accumulates, and induce and maintain sleep at night while the brain recovers
      • Shifts in time zones will disrupt circadian rhythms, and require a varying time to resynchronize
        • During this disruption, fatigue levels will be unpredictable, sleep efficiency will be reduced, and performance will degrade unpredictably
    • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):
      • OSA is now recognized as an important preventable factor identified in transportation accidents
      • OSA interrupts the normal restorative sleep necessary for normal functioning and is associated with chronic illnesses such as hypertension, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes
      • Symptoms include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, intermittent prolonged breathing pauses while sleeping, memory impairment and lack of concentration
      • There are many available treatments which can reverse the day time symptoms, reduce the chance of an accident and most treatments are acceptable for medical certification upon demonstrating effective treatment
      • If you have any symptoms described above, or neck size over 17 inches in men or 16 inches in women, or a body mass index greater than 30 you should be evaluated for sleep apnea by a sleep medicine specialist (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/ bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html)
      • With treatment you can avoid or delay the onset of these chronic illnesses and prolong a quality life
  • Emotion:

    • Similar to stress type indications
    • Upsetting events such a serious argument, a death, a break-up, job loss, or financial catastrophe can lead to risks which render a pilot unable to fly an aircraft safely
    • The emotions of anger, depression, and anxiety from such events not only decrease alertness but also may lead to taking risks that border on self-destruction
    • Pilots experiencing an emotionally upsetting event should not fly until satisfactorily recovered from it
FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide. Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 1
Figure 2: FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide,
Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 1
FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide. Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 2
Figure 3: FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide,
Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 2

PAVE Checklist:

  • Another way to mitigate risk is to perceive hazards. By incorporating the PAVE checklist into preflight planning, the pilot divides the risks of flight into four categories: Pilot in-command (PIC), Aircraft, enVironment, and External pressures (PAVE) which form part of a pilot’s decision-making process
  • With the PAVE checklist, pilots have a simple way to remember each category to examine for risk prior to each flight
  • Once a pilot identifies the risks of a flight, he or she needs to decide whether the risk, or combination of risks, can be managed safely and successfully. If not, make the decision to cancel the flight. If the pilot decides to continue with the flight, he or she should develop strategies to mitigate the risks. One way a pilot can control the risks is to set personal minimums for items in each risk category. These are limits unique to that individual pilot’s current level of experience and proficiency
  • For example, the aircraft may have a maximum crosswind component of 15 knots listed in the aircraft flight manual (AFM), and the pilot has experience with 10 knots of direct crosswind. It could be unsafe to exceed a 10 knot crosswind component without additional training. Therefore, the 10 knot crosswind experience level is that pilot’s personal limitation until additional training with a certificated flight instructor (CFI) provides the pilot with additional experience for flying in crosswinds that exceed 10 knots
  • One of the most important concepts that safe pilots understand is the difference between what is “legal” in terms of the regulations, and what is “smart” or “safe” in terms of pilot experience and proficiency
    • P = Pilot in Command (PIC):

      • The pilot is one of the risk factors in a flight. The pilot must ask, “Am I ready for this trip?” in terms of experience, recency, currency, physical, and emotional condition. The IMSAFE checklist provides the answers
    • A = Aircraft:

      • What limitations will the aircraft impose upon the trip? Ask the following questions:
        • Is this the right aircraft for the flight?
        • Am I familiar with and current in this aircraft? Aircraft performance figures and the AFM are based on a brand new aircraft flown by a professional test pilot. Keep that in mind while assessing personal and aircraft performance
        • Is this aircraft equipped for the flight? Instruments? Lights? Navigation and communication equipment adequate?
        • Can this aircraft use the runways available for the trip with an adequate margin of safety under the conditions to be flown?
        • Can this aircraft carry the planned load?
        • Can this aircraft operate at the altitudes needed for the trip?
        • Does this aircraft have sufficient fuel capacity, with reserves, for trip legs planned?
        • Does the fuel quantity delivered match the fuel quantity ordered?
    • V = EnVironment:

      • Weather:

        • Weather is a major environmental consideration. Earlier it was suggested pilots set their own personal minimums, especially when it comes to weather. As pilots evaluate the weather for a particular flight, they should consider the following
          • What is the current ceiling and visibility? In mountainous terrain, consider having higher minimums for ceiling and visibility, particularly if the terrain is unfamiliar
          • Consider the possibility that the weather may be different than forecast. Have alternative plans and be ready and willing to divert, should an unexpected change occur
          • Consider the winds at the airports being used and the strength of the crosswind component
          • If flying in mountainous terrain, consider whether there are strong winds aloft. Strong winds in mountainous terrain can cause severe turbulence and downdrafts and be very hazardous for aircraft even when there is no other significant weather
          • Are there any thunderstorms present or forecast?
          • If there are clouds, is there any icing, current or forecast? What is the temperature/dew point spread and the current temperature at altitude? Can descent be made safely all along the route?
          • If icing conditions are encountered, is the pilot experienced at operating the aircraft’s deicing or anti-icing equipment? Is this equipment in good condition and functional? For what icing conditions is the aircraft rated, if any?
      • Terrain:

        • Evaluation of terrain is another important component of analyzing the flight environment
        • To avoid terrain and obstacles, especially at night or in low visibility, determine safe altitudes in advance by using the altitudes shown on VFR and IFR charts during preflight planning
        • Use maximum elevation figures (MEFs) and other easily obtainable data to minimize chances of an inflight collision with terrain or obstacles
      • Airport:

        • What lights are available at the destination and alternate airports? VASI/PAPI or ILS glideslope guidance? Is the terminal airport equipped with them? Are they working? Will the pilot need to use the radio to activate the airport lights?
        • Check the Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) for closed runways or airports. Look for runway or beacon lights out, nearby towers, etc
        • Choose the flight route wisely. An engine failure gives the nearby airports supreme importance
        • Are there shorter or obstructed fields at the destination and/or alternate airports?
      • Airspace:

        • If the trip is over remote areas, is there appropriate clothing, water, and survival gear on-board in the event of a forced landing?
        • If the trip includes flying over water or unpopulated areas with the chance of losing visual reference to the horizon, the pilot must be prepared to fly IFR
        • Check the airspace and any temporary flight restriction (TFRs) along the route of flight
      • Nighttime:

        • Night flying requires special consideration
        • If the trip includes flying at night over water or unpopulated areas with the chance of losing visual reference to the horizon, the pilot must be prepared to fly IFR
        • Will the flight conditions allow a safe emergency landing at night?
        • Perform preflight check of all aircraft lights, interior and exterior, for a night flight. Carry at least two flashlights—one for exterior preflight and a smaller one that can be dimmed and kept nearby
    • E = External Pressures:

      • External pressures are influences external to the flight that create a sense of pressure to complete a flight—often at the expense of safety. Factors that can be external pressures include the following:
        • Someone waiting at the airport for the flight’s arrival
        • A passenger the pilot does not want to disappoint
        • The desire to demonstrate pilot qualifications
        • The desire to impress someone (Probably the two most dangerous words in aviation are “Watch this!”)
        • The desire to satisfy a specific personal goal (“gethome-itis,” “get-there-itis,” and “let’s-go-itis”)
        • The pilot’s general goal-completion orientation
        • Emotional pressure associated with acknowledging that skill and experience levels may be lower than a pilot would like them to be. Pride can be a powerful external factor!
      • Managing External Pressures:
        • Management of external pressure is the single most important key to risk management because it is the one risk factor category that can cause a pilot to ignore all the other risk factors. External pressures put time-related pressure on the pilot and figure into a majority of accidents. The use of personal standard operating procedures (SOPs) is one way to manage external pressures. The goal is to supply a release for the external pressures of a flight. These procedures include but are not limited to:
          • Allow time on a trip for an extra fuel stop or to make an unexpected landing because of weather
          • Have alternate plans for a late arrival or make backup airline reservations for must-be-there trips
          • For really important trips, plan to leave early enough so that there would still be time to drive to the destination, if necessary
          • Advise those who are waiting at the destination that the arrival may be delayed. Know how to notify them when delays are encountered
          • Manage passengers’ expectations. Make sure passengers know that they might not arrive on a firm schedule, and if they must arrive by a certain time, they should make alternative plans
          • Eliminate pressure to return home, even on a casual day flight, by carrying a small overnight kit containing prescriptions, contact lens solutions, toiletries, or other necessities on every flight
      • The key to managing external pressure is to be ready for and accept delays. Remember that people get delayed when traveling on airlines, driving a car, or taking a bus. The pilot’s goal is to manage risk, not create hazards. [Figure 2-7]

Case Studies:

  • NTSB Identification: MIA94FA148: The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot's impairment of judgment and performance due to alcohol and drugs, which led to his improper planning/decision, and his failure to maintain adequate airspeed during a maneuver
  • NTSB Identification: CEN12FA571: The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The student pilot’s impairment from alcohol, marijuana, and hypoxia, which adversely affected his ability to maintain control of the airplane

Conclusion:

  • These Physiological and psychological factors can affect a pilot and compromise the safety of a flight
  • This is the first link in the chain of events that, if ignored, could lead to a mishap
  • Aircraft accident statistics show that pilots should be conducting preflight checklists on themselves as well as their aircraft for pilot impairment contributes to many more accidents than failures of aircraft systems
  • The IM SAFE checklist is your last line of defense in determining if you are mentally and physically fit to conduct the flight

References: