Study: Long commutes could fatigue pilots

The Associated Press reports that a recent study showed that one in five airline pilots lives at least 750 miles from work, raising concerns that long commutes to airports could lead to fatigue in the cockpit.

The National Research Council report released Wednesday is based on home addresses of more than 25,000 pilots. Six percent of pilots listed a primary residence at least 1,500 miles from the airline where they begin flights.

The council acknowledged it is difficult to determine the safety risk associated with long commutes without more information about the practices of individual pilots.

Pilot unions and airlines have long maintained that pilots can safely commute long distances to work if they act responsibly, according to AP. For example, a pilot might fly across the country to reach his airline’s base but then sleep overnight in a hotel before going to work the next day well-rested.

“There are lots of stories and anecdotes but no systematic information,” Indiana University professor Clinton Oster Jr., chairman of the panel, told AP.

Although a significant share of pilots list addresses hundreds of miles from their base, it’s not clear if they routinely begin their commutes to work from those addresses, the report said.

Congress asked the council to study the issue in response to a regional airline crash that killed 50 people in February 2009 near Buffalo, N.Y. The co-pilot had commuted overnight from her home near Seattle to her airline’s base in Newark, N.J., to make the flight. The captain, who regularly commuted from Florida to Newark, spent the night before the flight in an airport crew lounge where sleeping was discouraged.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the accident was caused by pilot errors. The NTSB also said it was likely both pilots suffered from fatigue, but it wasn’t able to determine if fatigue contributed to the crash without more information.

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