Where, because of the length of the flight there are extra flight crew on board, the problem is relatively straightforward, and is handled in broadly the same way by most aviation authorities.
Two pilots must remain on duty, awake, and seated at the controls, apart from work related duties or toilet breaks. The remaining crew rest/sleep/read/eat until it is their turn to go on duty. In my airline, on ultra-long range flights, bunks are available for the flight crew, and on a SIN
sector it would be normal for me and the F/O to get around 6 hours sleep, in bunks, in flight, whilst the relief crew fly the aircraft.
It is when only the minimum crew is on board that matters appear to be handled in different ways by different aviation authorities.
In the UK, after much research over the years, the CAA now take a very realistic approach to the problems associated with long range night flights, across multiple time zones, with only a minimum crew on board.
Controlled rest is
approved by the CAA, subject to certain conditions, some of which I list below:
• In cruise
• One pilot at a time
• In their normal crew seat
• Maximum rest period of 45 minutes
• 15 minutes changeover between rest periods
• Other pilot fully briefed by Captain
• Any ATC clearance monitored by both pilots
• Repeated rest periods are allowed if required
There are other conditions, some of which ensure that the other pilot remains awake, which I won’t list due to security implications.
A typical UK based crew, having arrived in Chicago the day before, will depart ORD
at 21:00 Central Time for LHR
. Their body clocks tell them this is really 03:00 UK time, and they now face an 8 hour flight through the night. They may have been in SYD
(+11 hrs) or SEA
(-8hrs) within the previous few days, to add to the problem of their jet lag and fatigue.
By using controlled rest, the crew are slightly fresher and more alert for the approach and landing into LHR
than they would otherwise have been, and we have reduced the chance of the real danger, which is both pilots falling asleep together.
If you think this doesn’t happen, I doubt there are many pilots out there, with more than 1,000 hours long-haul flying, who can put their hand on their heart and say they have never dozed-off
for a few seconds over an ocean at night, and there will be few Captains with more than 10,000 hours long-haul flying who haven’t seen all the crew nearly asleep in flight.
has said, this topic is receiving a lot of attention and research now, and my guess is that more aviation authorities will move the same way as the CAA in the future, and approve controlled rest with minimum crews.