Tired Skies: Pilot Fatigue and 'Crash Pads' Threaten The Safety Of Airline Passengers

Sleepy pilots put lives at risk, say families of plane crash victims.

ByABC News
February 9, 2011, 11:00 AM

Feb. 9, 2011— -- Despite denials from the airline industry, large numbers of pilots report to duty every day after getting only a few hours of what fatigue experts call "destructive sleep" in crowded crew lounges and so-called "crash pads," an ABC News investigation has found. Widespread pilot fatigue is putting airline passengers at risk, say critics, and may already have cost lives.

Current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep in mid-flight in the report to be broadcast tonight on "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline".

Former Continental Express pilot Josh Reikes says one captain warned him, "Don't you ever let me wake up and find you sleeping."

America's most famous pilot, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, doubts he could have landed his stricken U.S. Airways jet safely in the Hudson River, saving all 155 people aboard, if he had been sleep-deprived.

"Had we been tired, had we not gotten sufficient rest the night before," said Sullenberger, "we could not have performed at the same level."

Sullenberger says fatigue is an industry-wide problem that "needs to be fixed, and has needed to be fixed for 30 years."

"We have to create a situation in which it's possible" for pilots to get a good, affordable night's sleep, he said. "We have to value this profession enough that people don't have to live out of a crash pad or a crew room."

CLICK HERE to go inside a crash pad and crew lounge.

Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, a fatigue expert who consults for airlines, unions and the government, said that it would be hard for pilots to get adequate rest in the kinds of places where many try to sleep.

"Good sleeping occurs in a dark room, a quiet room, a room that's cool in temperature, and a room where there is no intrusive noise," said Dr. Moore-Ede. "That does not describe a crew lounge."

Linda Shotwell, head of ALPA communications, thanked ABC News for requesting an interview on pilot fatigue, but said in an email, "Unfortunately, we do not have anyone available at this time."

Scott Maurer, who lost his daughter Lorin, 30, in the Buffalo accident, says something needs to be done to fix this impasse. "It's a horrible situation for pilots. These two areas, pilots and industry need to work closer together. And if they can't get that done, then it's up to our government to step in and intercede and make something happen."

Click Here for the Blotter Homepage.

\"Good sleeping occurs in a dark room, a quiet room, a room that's cool in temperature, and a room where there is no intrusive noise,\" said Dr. Moore-Ede. \"That does not describe a crew lounge.\"

Linda Shotwell, head of ALPA communications, thanked ABC News for requesting an interview on pilot fatigue, but said in an email, \"Unfortunately, we do not have anyone available at this time.\"

Scott Maurer, who lost his daughter Lorin, 30, in the Buffalo accident, says something needs to be done to fix this impasse. \"It's a horrible situation for pilots. These two areas, pilots and industry need to work closer together. And if they can't get that done, then it's up to our government to step in and intercede and make something happen.\"

Click Here for the Blotter Homepage.

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