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Long Commutes for Pilots May Hamper Flying Performance: Study
Date:7/6/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 6 (HealthDay News) -- Airline pilots who have long commutes to work may suffer from debilitating fatigue that could hamper their flying performance, a new report suggests.

To combat this problem, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration should find ways to reduce the likelihood that commuting poses a safety risk, according to the report from the U.S. National Research Council.

Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, the nation's largest airline trade association, commended the report and the council for "the extensive work" that went into it.

"As we have consistently stated, we believe the airlines have a responsibility of maintaining schedules that enable proper rest, and pilots have a responsibility to arrive to work rested and ready to fly," she said.

The U.S. Congress asked for the report as a result of concerns that commuting might lead to dangerous levels of fatigue since many pilots do not live near the airports they fly from.

These concerns were highlighted by the fatal crash of a Continental connecting flight (operated by Colgan Air) in a residential area of Buffalo, N.Y., on Feb. 12, 2009, which killed all 45 passengers, four crew members and an individual on the ground.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that pilot error caused the crash and that fatigue likely played a role, although there was insufficient evidence to prove it.

"Our study was not charged with looking at the Colgan crash or to reanalyze it," explained Clinton V. Oster Jr., professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University in Bloomington, who chaired the committee that prepared the report. "Part of the problem, particularly in fatal accidents where the crew is killed, [is] it's a big challenge for accident investigators to determine what the role of fatigue was," he said.

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