The following thread got me to thinking:
The last few replies (thusfar) are just shocking that it is acceptable for flight crews (not to mention mechanics, ATC, and other people who are in direct connection with the operation of an airplane) to work on such less sleep. Could aviation learn something from medicine?
The year is 1984. An 18 year old college student named Libby Zion is admitted to Cornell's New York Hospital for a high fever. Dr. Gregg Stone, a junior medical resident who had been on duty for 18-19 hours, gives Ms. Zion a drug called Demerol (meperidine) for "shaking" episodes, overlooking the fact that there is a fatal interaction with a medication that Ms. Zion is already on. Eight hours later Ms. Zion is dead, purportedly because of a simple medication interaction. At the trial, blame is placed on Dr. Stone but what comes to light is the fact that Dr. Stone, like all other resident doctors, was overworked, sleep deprived, and virtually impaired. A commission was set-up and in 2003 the sweeping 80-hour work-week for resident physicians was implemented nationwide (USA). [Note - this is a grossly abbreviated version of the case, Libby Zion may have, by some accounts, died of cocaine overdose, but it has become widely accepted that it was likely a simple drug interaction that killed her.]
The basic premise of how it works is simple. 12 hours on, 12 hours off, with (on average) one 24-hour period "off" within a 7 day period. While many people would find this to be a gruelling schedule (72 hours a week), it is actually much more human than a typical "old-school" call schedule of 12 on, 12 off, 36 on, 12 off, 12 on, 12 off, 36 on, etc. When I started residency before the 80-hour thing was started, we were pulling 100-120 hours "on-duty" in a week. Making potentially life-saving decisions at 3am on 2 hours of sleep was, well, scary. Simply put, do I want a pilot risking both my life and his flying on little or no rest?
There are laws about truck drivers and bus drivers and how long they can work for. There are laws for doctors. There are even laws in some states that ban drowsy-driving; in New Jersey if you (everyday Joe) are involved in a crash that lead to anybody's death and you were found to not have had adequate sleep before you got behind the wheel (you worked a "double shift" at the Duncan Donuts that day), you can be charged with vehicular homicide, get prison time, and even be charged with a $100k fine. Even if laws (or rules/regs) exist for the airline industry, are they adequate enough to ensure the public's safety?
So should pilots, FA's, mechanics, rampers, ATC, and any other personnel who have anything to do related to the safety of the plane and its passengers be more limited as far as work hours?