Seasoned air-travelers among you who delight in...


January 28, 1993

FOR THOSE seasoned air-travelers among you who delight in watching the clouds roll by as you soar through the stratosphere, or simply enjoy using your flight time to catch up on that new book that everyone at home is talking about, we offer a reassuring thought: Your pilot may at this very moment be sleeping.

Please check.

According to the recent proposal of an FAA task force, short naps on long-distance flights may actually increase pilot awareness.

Twenty-one pilots on trans-Pacific study flights took naps while their planes were cruising over deep ocean (the other crew members watched the plane), sleeping for up to 40 minutes followed by a 20-minute recovery period. The pilots showed "improvement in performance and physical alertness," as the study triumphantly concluded.

This much is true. Short naps do increase awareness. We remember this from high school. So it is little wonder that the rested pilots displayed greater alertness. Presumably, so did the crew members who covered for them.

Based on this study, the task force recommends that during long, three-crew-member flights, one crew member sleep while the other two watch the plane. On two crew-member flights, the air carrier must make sure the operating pilot stays awake while the other pilot sleeps.

The benefits of these naps, the task force concludes, are a more alert pilot during descent and landing, and thus a safer flight. As one official summarized, "I'd rather have my pilot taking a nap while I'm eating a steak than while I'm on approach to Hong Kong."

Not to quibble with the FAA, but we'd rather that he didn't sleep at all.

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