In March, a JetBlue pilot started acting strangely. He began ranting about September 11, made allusions about terrorism and ran through the cabin yelling about Jesus, terrorists, Iran and Iraq.
Captain Osbon was eventually subdued by a passenger and the plane was diverted and landed safely. After being charged with interfering with flight crew instructions he was found not guilty due to insanity.
A psychologist testified that the pilot was having a "brief psychotic disorder" due to sleep deprivation.
ABC News found that large numbers of pilots regularly report for duty each and every day, often after only getting a few hours of poor quality sleep in crowded staff lounges.
Although the airline industry insists pilots are given adequate rest periods between shifts, ongoing jet lag and a confused circadian rhythm mean that it's almost impossible for pilots to get enough high quality, restorative sleep between shifts.
One news outlet (see the source link below) claims that pilots are often held beyond reproach and that they find it hard to reach out for help due to the high regard in which they are held. Flight attendants (who are often sleep deprived, too) are scared to speak out for fear of retribution.
So what can be done to change all this?
- Flight crews should be placed on similar flight paths within similar time zones so that their circadian rhythms can find some sense of stability.
- It may be time to consider drug testing flight crews for sleeping pills.
- Finally, and most importantly, pilots and flight attendants need more support.
It's time to take sleep deprivation seriously, and it's time to offer proactive help to our flight crews.
Lives depend on it.
Last updated: September 4, 2012