24Hr emergency line +44 (0)20 8476 4099
Join Balpa

Meet the ‘fatigue fighters’: Andy Whale

by Nancy Jackson BALPA Communications Officer

BALPA members tell us that fatigue is one of their biggest concerns. As such it is an issue that is high on the agenda for BALPA’s Flight Safety team. This blog introduces the BALPA ‘fatigue fighters’ and gives you a look at the work they are doing on fatigue in aviation.

Tell us about you:

I have always been good with numbers and I love a good nights’ sleep! Both are traits that have make me a good fit for the Flight Safety team at BALPA. I came to aviation from an academic background, after studying for a PhD in applied sleep science where I investigated the relationship between sleep and performance in elite level athletes. Since getting my doctorate, I’ve worked on a couple of different projects, including a study into dehydration in drivers, and research into mental health treatment. From there I moved my attention to aviation, starting work at BALPA two years ago.

What do you do at BALPA?

My role involves applying my expertise in the area of sleep science to help understand the issues surrounding fatigue in pilots. The pressures involved in aviation are so unlike most other contexts, and there is a lack of research and understanding as to the effect that these pressures have on pilot performance (and therefore safety), as well as the impact on health and wellbeing. You can see more about Andy’s work here:

Why is fatigue such an important issue to tackle?

At BALPA we work every day to make every flight a safe flight. Our members have told us that fatigue is their number one flight safety concern and we take that concern very seriously.

Fatigue has always been present as an issue within aviation, but the introduction of new flight time limitation laws two years ago has brought the issue in to the spotlight once again. The perception is that the situation is getting worse. Here in the Flight Safety department we work to try and understand how prevalent fatigue is in aviation and to tackle the problem where its arising.

A big concern that’s been mentioned time and again is that airlines could see the flight time limitation rules as productivity targets, rather than safety limits. No-one wants tired pilots at the controls and that why this is a critical issue for BALPA.

What is a typical day like?

Every day is so different. One day I could be helping to answer a query from an individual member about a roster they’ve been assigned by their airline and the level of fatigue risk. The next day could be advising a company council on more general fatigue issues they are facing in their airline. A great deal of my time is also dedicated to conducting scientific research into the level of fatigue that exists in the aviation industry, and to understanding the reasons and possible ways to decrease the levels of fatigue and fatigue risk in the industry nationally.

What do you hope your work will achieve?

I hope that the work I do will help prevent pilots becoming fatigued and will help keep flights safe. My work gives us evidence that helps us identify potentially unsafe rosters and enables us to challenge airlines and regulators to make changes.

Ultimately, we need to see a shift in how the whole issue of fatigue is perceived by the industry. Too often we hear of pilots who have reported a fatigue concern being met with the response from their company that the roster is ‘legal’, which completely ignores the over-arching requirement that rosters are planned in a way that prevents pilots from becoming fatigued. Just because a roster complies with the prescriptive FTL rules within the regulation, it doesn’t mean the roster is therefore legal, or cannot lead to a pilot experiencing an unsafe level of fatigue, and the attitude that FTL rules represent the threshold for safety is dangerous and could compromise flight safety.

Essentially, I hope that the work I do with BALPA’s flight safety team will fight fatigue in aviation and will keep pilots and passengers safe.