Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Fatigue poses a significant risk to commercial aviation. When pilots become fatigued they are more likely to make errors and in some instances those errors have been causal factors in accidents. Research not only tells us how the human body is affected by fatigue but also what can be done to temporarily reduce its negative impact on performance. However, relatively little data is available pertaining to one specific type of flight operation, the Continuous Duty Overnight (CDO). They are frequently conducted by regional airlines within the United States and typically resemble schedules for workers on a 3rd shift, otherwise known as the night shift. This study utilized an online survey tool to gather data from pilots at one mid- sized regional airline. The pilots provided data on a variety of areas including fatigue, sleep habits, fatigue countermeasures, continuous duty overnights, and their perceptions of safety. Results tend to suggest that pilots at this airline are aware of how their body reacts to fatigue, what measures are necessary to obtain quality sleep, and that the airline itself is operating safely. Nevertheless, several unnerving trends were observed. Many of the pilots admitted to sleeping while on duty and in flight, a practice that is currently forbidden by the Federal Aviation Administration. Additionally, a substantial portion of participants indicated they did not notice the detrimental affects of fatigue until three or more hours of sleep loss had been accumulated. This is contrary to research by Caldwell (2009) that indicates as little as one to two hours of sleep loss can substantially affect pilot performance. Regardless of regulatory changes, biomedical research, and flight crew education, fatigue will continue to impact flight operations at regional airlines. The simple fact is that fatigue will never be a non-issue. However, this study and others like it have shed light on important factors that allow pilots to use the most effective strategies possible to combat fatigue for short durations until quality sleep can be obtained. Airlines are strongly encouraged to incorporate fatigue education into their initial and recurrent ground training programs. But ultimately it is the responsibility of the individual pilot to ensure he or she is well rested and fit for duty.