Pilot Fatigue: Can A Pilot Be Fired For Calling In Too Tired?

Pilot Fatigue: Can A Pilot Be Fired For Calling In Too Tired?

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Jackson Barnett

Principal Attorney

A pilot preparing to fly in the early morning has come to the realization that a lack of quality sleep has left him with an unusually high level of pilot fatigue – the kind that could impair his ability to fly and make sound judgment calls while in flight.

Naturally, the right thing to do on his part is to call in the case of pilot fatigue. However, many pilots who aren’t clear on the stated legalities for their protection still find themselves worrying about being terminated. Let’s speak to these fears and address the most pressing concerns you may have.

Know this: It is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee for calling in fatigued.

Pilot Fatigue Protections

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that pilots report their own fatigue and that they are not penalized for doing so. The FAA has established regulations that mandate rest periods and duty limitations to prevent fatigue-related accidents and it is the responsibility of pilots and their employers to comply with these regulations.

If an employer were to fire a pilot for calling in fatigued, the pilot could file a complaint with the FAA and pursue legal action against the employer for violating rest and duty regulations.

One way that pilots can report violations is through the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). This program allows pilots to confidentially and anonymously report safety concerns or violations.

The FAA also has a Hotline for Pilots program, which allows pilots to directly report safety concerns to the agency. These programs provide pilots with a secure and confidential way to report violations without fear of reprisal.

Aviation accidents are relatively rare, but when they do occur, 80% are a result of human error. And of those, an estimated 15-20% are caused by pilot fatigue.1

1Predictive Safety, “16 Plane Crashes Caused by Fatigued Aircrew & What It Means for Your Safety-Sensitive Company.”

What We Know Thus Far: Studies On Pilot Fatigue

Pilot fatigue is such an important issue to flight safety that there is no lack of studies on the subject. More critically, as a result of such studies, we are seeing vital steps being taken by airlines and other organizations. New findings have led to new regulations, policies and procedures to mitigate the risk associated with fatigue in pilots.

A few examples:

  • The Sleep, Activity Fatigue, and Task Effectiveness (SAFTE) model: This model is used to predict fatigue levels based on sleep patterns, workload, and other factors. It has been validated through several studies and is used by airlines and other organizations to manage pilot fatigue.

  • The Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) program: This program collects and analyzes data on pilot fatigue and performance, as well as other factors that can affect flight safety. The data is used to identify trends and develop strategies to mitigate fatigue-related risks. For instance, the FOQA program has been able to produce key indicators based on fuel management, flight efficiency, procedural safety, ground turn optimization and more. Having this level of data provides a window of insight into why such operational inefficiencies have occurred, including potential links to pilot fatigue.

  • We even know much more about the ideal start times of pilots. According to one study by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau on the effects of start time on pilot fatigue, the agency found that pilots who started their duty periods in the early morning were more likely to experience fatigue than those who started later in the day.

    If a pilot can establish that they were wrongfully terminated, they may be entitled to damages, including lost wages and benefits, as well as any other costs associated with the termination. In some cases, the court may also order the employer to reinstate the pilot to their former position.

    In addition to pilot fatigue, we cover a variety of other circumstances in which a pilot may have a case for whistleblower protection such as calling in sick, not wanting to fly in bad weather or refusing to fly an unsafe airplane in our article, “Whistleblower Wrongful Termination: What Pilots Need To Know.” Be sure to explore this article as well for continued guidance on the situation that may best apply to you.

    If you have been recently fired for reporting pilot fatigue, it’s imperative that you consult with an aviation attorney while time is of the essence. Barnett Law Offices’ aviation attorneys are well prepared to speak to your rights and viable options, including the possible option to pursue legal action against your employer for wrongful termination. Bring Aboard Barnett today for a consultation by calling 1-800-578-5512.