The research aims at determining the precursor to fatigue or burnout among airline pilots. This study’s objectives are to identify cognitive overload and various mindful preventions. Furthermore, the provision of significant interventions that will help reduce fatigue in the aviation industry. The participants selected are from the commercial airline who have been in the industry for more than three years and are full-time employees within the sector that they have been assigned. The interview will collect data regarding fatigue. It consists of socio-demographic data, including age, sex, professional experience, job status. The research will focus on the perception of the commercial airline pilots regarding burnout as it is impossible to help people without understanding their perceptions. The instruments that will be used is a structured interview which will assess the signs of burnout, experience prior to burnout, potential causes and perception vs statistics. Qualitative data from the interview will be analyzed using the Microsoft Excel application. The results of this proposal would aim to help managers appreciate or gain understanding to actual experienced precursor to burnout.
Every year the number of flights performed keeps increasing. In 2004, there were 23.8 million flights performed by the global airline industry, whereas in 2020 (pre-pandemic period), the number had risen to 40.3 million (Mazareanu, 2021). The fatigue reports are increasing, especially since COVID-19 started to spread worldwide and intervene in workers of various industries (Wilson et al., 2021). The pandemic has led to additional work stress factors, causing an increase in fatigue levels. These factors include the inability for a crew to leave outstation hotels, irregular schedule, flight cancellations, last-minute additional flying, country entry restrictions, increased crew testing requirements, and others.
Before analyzing and researching fatigue in aviation, one should be acknowledged the general definition of fatigue. ICAO (2015) defined fatigue as a “physiological state of reduced mental or physical performance capability resulting from sleep loss, extended wakefulness, circadian phase, and workload (mental and physical activity) that can impair a person’s alertness, and ability to perform safety-related operational duties” (p. xiii). Thus, although the aviation industry provides one of the safest ways to travel, pilots’ and crew members’ fatigue can cause accidents and incidents (ICAO, 2015). Moreover, the most threatening feature of crew member fatigue is that it is inevitable because of the all-day operations and brain activity. Therefore, some approaches to address and manage this psychological state should be introduced and established. ICAO (2015) provides an overview of the various approaches to fatigue management in the aviation industry, emphasizing the role of such fatigue grounds as the need for adequate sleep, daily rhythms, and workloads.
Some scholars emphasize the lack of sleep contributing to fatigue and its possible consequences and timing and sleep quality. For instance, it was claimed that the “amount, timing, and quality of sleep each day (sleep/wake schedule)” is crucial in preventing fatigue (Bendak & Rashid, 2020, p. 2). Moreover, such a variable as operations made in multiple time zones is also considered while defining fatigue in pilots and crew members (Bendak and Rashid, 2020). Lee and Kim (2018) also concluded that aviation workers’ night schedules often fail to provide adequate time for sleep, making the crew members feel more tired during night shifts. Consequently, pilots and others may experience mental or physical decline or the rest of the defects, which define fatigue (Lee & Kim, 2018). It cannot be claimed that the listed above crucial factors of such a psychological state oppose the definition suggested by ICAO (2015). On the contrary, such research as Lee and Kim (2018) only complements the model definition of fatigue in aviation.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many restrictions on populations worldwide, which led to an increase in overall anxiety. The most common measures introduced to cope with infection were avoiding public areas, hand hygiene, wearing masks, and social distancing. MacIntyre et al. (2021) conducted a cross-sectional survey of preventive behaviors in adults (people more than 18 years old) in five cities in Australia, the UK, and the USA. According to MacIntyre et al. (2021), “pandemic fatigue was more common in younger people” (p. 199). Although aircraft crew contains younger and older members, a study should be conducted researching how pandemic restrictions influenced the growth of fatigue in pilots’ behaviors and the general population.
Moreover, Morgul et al. (2020) questioned 4,700 people to define factors influencing psychological fatigue in Istanbul, Turkey. Only 35.9% were declared to be psychologically normal (Morgul et al., 2020); “age, educational level, occupational status, place of residence and number of family members” impact the mental fatigue of a person (Morgul et al., 2020, p. 128). The critical role here is knowledge about the COVID-19: what consequences it has, how many infected people are there in the city/state, what are the symptoms, etc. The way people cope with their life in crises affects their psychological condition. Morgul et al. (2020) argued that: Normal participants generally showed more positive attitudes than the fatigued in believing that COVID-19 will finally be controlled, satisfaction with preventive measures taken by the authorities, reporting suspected cases with symptoms, and trusting that Turkey can overcome the COVID-19 pandemic (p. 128).
In other words, beliefs affect the mental fatigue of a person. In addition to that, Teng et al. (2020) claimed that being overwhelmed with news regarding the pandemic and other significant infections or crises may lead to increased fear, anxiety, and fatigue. This overwhelming feeling can be referred to as messaging fatigue, which means being tired because of permanent exposure to similarly themed information (Koh et al., 2020). Thus, pilots and crew members, who are also taking the risk of getting infected on the job and always overloaded with the COVID-19 news, may have negative beliefs regarding the pandemic, resulting in the psychological state of fatigue.
Cognitive overload is a significant factor in the aviation industry because of the challenges that commercial airline pilots face. It is a vital factor because it influences the performance of the pilots increasing the chances of mistakes in that can cause deadly accidents (Biondi et al., 2020). Cognitive overload leads to stress, strain and fatigue which are also problematic to pilots. It is important for the commercial industry to consider various ways that will help tackle cognitive overload to promote the performance of the pilots as well as the commercial airline. Similar to fatigue, mental overload is difficult to identify as it cannot be observed directly. Pilots taking long shifts are very prone to this effect because of the conditions that the flights have (MARTINS, 2016). The commercial airline can check on the subjective, performance based and physiological condition of the pilots to identify mental overload.
There are various causes of fatigue that have been identified by researchers. Sleep loss is among the major factor that lead to fatigue as individuals are require to have a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of sleep (Wingelaar-Jagt et al., 2021). Sleep is an important predictor of self-reported fatigue and it can be easily used to prevent fatigue among the airline pilots. Pilots who have been restricted to 1 or 2 hours sleep have had significant problem handling emergencies in Boeing simulator. Extended wakefulness promotes pressure towards sleeping that results in fatigue (Wingelaar-Jagt et al., 2021). As pilots continue to work without sleep for long hours, there comes a time when the sleep pressure reduces below certain levels leading to wakefulness that affect their performance as they become prone to erroneous decisions.
The circadian phase is a body-clock that monitors the human cycle of day and night through ocular light input. It is responsible for preference for sleep during the night period. These clock is very sensitive when an individual has less sleep periods promoting their low mental performance. Time zones has impact the rhythm of this clock hence reducing the sleep hours of pilots. Its effect is similar to that of cognitive overload as it leads to poor performance in the cockpit. Work load is also a significant factor which can be either physical or mental (Wingelaar-Jagt et al., 2021). Commercial airline pilots are usually subjected to great workloads which later leads to fatigue. The high and low work load have a substantial effect on the performance of the pilots as low work load leads to low task engagement while high workload promotes impaired sleep and distress.
The rationale for this study pertains to the potential benefits of alertness prediction among pilots and crew members are increasing work efficiency and decreasing a possible threat. Previous studies on pilots’ fatigue provided a ground for this research. In other words, many studies uncovered underlying causes of mental fatigue: lack of sleep, anxiety, workload, and others (David-Cooper, 2020; O’Hagan, 2018). For instance, Senol and Acar (2020) conducted research studying the causes of the Air France Flight 447 Crash in 2009 and came up with a conclusion that “the captain might have had problems with fatigue management before the flight” (p. 196). Thus, the study will be based on prior research, aiming to extend the existing knowledge regarding the prevention of high fatigue levels (Oliver et al., 2017). Moreover, there are different ways to prevent the increase in fatigue, such as crew resource management, which includes training, leadership, and other tools (Bennett, 2018).
The research aims at determining the precursor to fatigue or burnout among airline pilots. This study’s objectives are to identify cognitive overload and various mindful preventions. Furthermore, the provision of significant interventions that will help reduce fatigue in the aviation industry. The following are the hypothesis:
- H1: There is a positive relationship between flying and fatigue.
- H2: There are various perceived signs to detect burnout.
The research uses a qualitative research design to understand fatigue in the aviation industry. This was selected because it legitimizes the use of individual network. This research design will enable researchers to understand the relationship between fatigue and flying, understanding potential interventions to prevent incidents and accidents. Furthermore, it will help understand the signs that will help detect burnouts among the workers. Additionally, it is crucial for this industry to identify the causes and factors contributing to fatigue.
The participant required to participate in the survey will be selected from American commercial aviation who have been in the industry for more than three years. Furthermore, for the participant to qualify to participate in the survey, they should be permanent and full-time employees within the sector that they have been assigned. The employees who will not have met the set criteria will not be allowed to participate. The aviation team will be briefed via communication email messages to enable those willing to participate in the study to register. The volunteers will be provided with an online form to fill in their details.
The researcher will explain to the participants verbally and provide all the necessary information, such as the purpose of the study, the procedure involved, the risk associated, its significance, and the alternatives to research participation. The participant will be provided with ample time that will enable them to ask questions. They will be provided with an information sheet and given enough time to decide whether to participate in the research. The researcher will respond to the questions posed by the participants, and when they are satisfied, they will be allowed to participate in the study. The research will use a sample of 10 to12 participants, who will be determined by a simplified formula for proportion.
where n is the sample size, N is the size of the population, and e is the precision level. There are 20 participants; 14 will meet the criteria, and 12 will consent to participate in the research study. The selected number of participants is small because of the COVID-19 restrictions and precautionary measures.
There are several equipment that can be used to collect data relating to fatigue or burnout in the aviation industry. The current research will utilize a structured interview to collect the qualitative data. There are various aspects that need to be considered when using interview as a method of data collection. The measures for the interview will based on the question that that the interviewer will be using. This questions are “What do pilots look for as “signs of burnout?”, “what they experience prior to burnout “perceived?”, “what are potential causes? overload?”, and “perception vs statistics”. The measure sign of burnout is crucial in this research as it shows the perception of the airline pilots regarding the understanding of burnouts. This enables the interviewer to identify the impact it has on the airline pilots. The experience the pilots have before the burnout is necessary as it provide information that will help prevent occurrence of incident or accident. Furthermore, it will enable the researcher to identify the factors that will help commercial airline understand pilots’ emotional and physical state before flying and risking the lives of passengers.
The potential causes and overload question will provide information on how the airline pilots comprehend the causes of fatigue and burnout. This will help in the designing of significant intervention to reduce the fatigue or burnout. Perception and statistics provide information on how the pilots understand burnout or fatigue in regard to its statistics. These interview will be recorded through audio device for analysis.
The interview will be conducted physically and the researcher will reach out to the commercial airline pilots. The association of the aviation team will announce the survey provided information concerning the significance of the research study. The aim of the study will be mentioned to enable the participants to understand the research. The process will take approximately 15 minutes to collect the required data. The interviewer will carry brief instructions that will guide the participants on the study. Furthermore, it will clarify the significance of the research and the aim. The socio-demographic information collected will be age, sex, professional experience, and job status. Other collected information is the work schedule that varies with the changes on time zones. Personal information such as name, employee number, address, and phone number will not be recorded to maintain the anonymity of the research.
The qualitative data from the interview will be analyzed using the Microsoft Excel application. The researcher will input the data into an excel document and identify the missing elements in the data. The researcher will generate codes from the collected data to identify low-level to high-level themes in the data. The researcher will read through the data to identify the main points in every response. The low-level themes will be the persistent idea of a few participants, while the high-level themes will be persistent ideas in most participants. The themes generated after coding the data will help explain fatigue in the aviation industry.
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