NTSB Makes Recommendations on Sleep Apnea

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August 17, 2009

Flight Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued six recommendations to the Federal Aviation Agency regarding pilot fatigue and obstructive sleep apnea after concluding an investigation of two pilots who fell asleep during a February 2008 flight. The pilots were flying from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii, when they fell asleep and flew past the plane's destination, traveling another 26 miles before waking up. In a letter to the FAA dated Aug. 7, NTSB ruled the flight crew's recent shift schedules and the captain's undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea contributed to the incident. Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The "apnea" in sleep apnea refers to a breathing pause that lasts at least 10 seconds. In the letter, NTSB makes the following recommendations:

  • Pilots should be screened for sleep disorders during medical certification.
  • More research should be conducted on fatigue in short-haul flight operations.
  • Any information from research on fatigue should be made available to flight crews working short-haul flights.
  • Guidance from research should be included in operators' operating specifications.
  • The FAA should implement a program to identify pilots at high risk for sleep apnea.
  • Guidance should be made available for pilots, employers and physicians regarding the identification and treatment of individuals at high risk of sleep apnea.

Read NTSB's recommendations, or learn more about sleep apnea .