Stress and Fatigue in Aviation Operations

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Date Submitted: 08/06/2012 08:52 PM

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The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 70 to 80 percent of all aviation related accidents can be contributed to human factors as the root cause. Among all of the human factors that can be attributed to accidents, the most significant are stress and fatigue. The symptoms of both can be very subtle, but can have considerable impact on the ability of the pilots to safely and effectively operate machines as complex as a Boeing 747, which require the operators full and undivided attention. Aviation, however, is not limited to the men and women that operate the aircraft, but also includes mechanics, air traffic control personnel, and anyone else that is involved in the process of enabling the aircraft to leave the ground. These individuals are susceptible to the effects of stress and fatigue as well, and are equally capable of contributing to an aviation accident. ( Helmreich R, Gregovich S, Wilhelm J, et al., 1989) Throughout the course of this study, we will define stress and fatigue, identify their causes, examine the impact that they have in the aviation workplace, and attempt to identify methods in which the risks that they pose can be mitigated.

What is Stress?

The American Psychology Association has defined stress generically as “The pattern of specific and nonspecific responses an organism makes to stimulus events that disturb its equilibrium and tax or exceed its ability to cope.”( Under the broad term of “stress”, however, there are several different types of stress, each with their own unique causes and symptoms. The first form of stress that we will examine is the most common, and is referred to as acute stress.

Acute stress is most commonly caused by immediate demands on an individual, such as meeting a deadline or being required to prioritize multiple radio transmissions in the cockpit. It is temporary in nature...