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HP Challenges for Flight Crew working in COVID-Impacted Conditions

The following table presents some of the COVID-impacted work conditions that can result in HP issues that have consequences for how pilots perform their duties.  When considered separately, each HP issue may not be considered particularly hazardous to operations.  However, they rarely present in isolation.  For pilots already working in demanding circumstances, it is important to consider how these HP issues may interact, combine and compound, possibly compromising their ability to manage non-normal or challenging operational situations.

 

For flight crew, the COVID-impacted work environment may have resulted in:

Potential effects on human performance (which may present operational risks):

  • Decreased flight hours

  • Extended periods between proficiency and recency checks

  • Limited training or changes in training delivery methods to remote learning.

  • Reduced levels of experience, particularly during ramp-up of operations

  • New and unfamiliar routes and airports

  • Unfamiliar types of operations, e.g. cargo operations conduced with passenger aircraft.

  • Threats that had been well known no longer being relevant and new ones being present.

Proficiency issues:

  • Skill "fade" and/or loss of confidence due to lack of recent experience or unfamiliar operations.

  • Potential for over-confidence based on past performance leading to crew-members not recognizing the skill "fade".

  • Potential for increased errors or lapses as well as reduced effectiveness of monitoring compared to crews with recent experience.

  • Extended duty day durations and changed working patterns, including non-normal ops and slipped schedules

  • Lack of routine compared to pre-pandemic, requiring increased cognitive engagement

  • Increased flight hours for the limited number of crew who have remained operational (e.g. not furloughed or subject to increased restrictions due to vulnerability issues)

  • Increased time spent in waiting for Covid-19 testing and in filling out declarations.

  • Layover disruptions due to non-normal hotel accommodations.

  • Additional quarantine requirements on layovers and potentially on return to home base.

Fatigue-related issues:

  • Decreased sleep opportunities and degraded facilities for sleep, recovery and nutrition, resulting in increased flight crew fatigue.

  • Additional "unaccounted" tasks, increasing workload and length of crew working day.

  • Crew may be less able to obtain adequate sleep during layovers

  • Depleted physical endurance when returning to work after periods of low workload or extended absence.

  • Uncertainty of fatigue-related risk operating beyond current flight and duty time regulations or limitations.

  • New and rapidly changing procedures

Procedure-related issues:

  • Lack of awareness or familiarity with new procedures may lead to procedural errors or increased time for completion.

  • Reduced flying may increase the time required to adapt to new procedures.

  • Physical distancing and wearing of PPE may result in restricted communication between flight and cabin crew, and any other operational personnel.

  • Concerns regarding job security, personal and family health vulnerabilities,  and impact of social isolation

  • Decreased access to nutrition options

  • Decreased access to health practitioners

Fitness for duty-related issues:

  • Flight crew may not be clear when their health status renders them unfit for duty.

  • Flight crew less willing to report hazards, particularly in relation to their fitness for duty.

  • Potential for degraded health status may result in inability to perform as normal.

 

These conditions mean that it is imperative that operators look to managing their unique operational safety risks related to HP.  At the same time, these conditions also mean that operators are less likely to receive the information that they need to be able to monitor and maintain safe flight operations.


For States, it means that the impact of the changes within the complex aviation environment are more difficult to assess and any risks generated as unintended consequences of decisions being made may be missed. 


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