Sleeping Pilots. Wait, What?
At ease reader! The aviation professionals on the front end of that big charter airplane are wide awake. Their counterparts may not be. Turns out, large aircraft charters over long distances can require multiple crews. These folks are required to rest from time to time. The FAA and their foreign equivalents have developed extensive rules (Part 117 for any airline geeks) governing how long pilots and cabin crew can fly as well as work at performing other jobby flying stuff. So throw the covers off, wake up and get ready to become even smarter than you already are.
Charter Flight for a Large Group Over Long Distances = Crew Rest
The world continues to get smaller, with aircraft increasingly capable of flying further without requiring a fuel stop. The Wright Brothers were pleased, nay, ecstatic, when their bird broke the surly bonds of earth and flew for 59 seconds, over a distance of 852 feet. Recently, Singapore Airlines set a scheduled passenger flight world distance record time in the air of 17+ hours aboard an A350-900URL, travelling over 10,000 miles. Wow. These magic birds can fly so far that for our long-haul large group charter flight clients, the humans need resting.
What are the Rest Rules?
The amount of rest a crewmember needs varies by job, and several other variables. Generally, a U.S. pilot cannot exceed more than 8 flying hours (block hours) per day for domestic flights, and 12 hours per day for international flights. Their duty day comprises all the time spent performing their other job-related duties, such as pilot briefings, reading weather reports, signing autographs, and getting the aircraft and other crewmembers ready for flight. Duty days vary from 12 hours to 16 hours – again, lots of variability depending on flight route (domestic or international), the number of crewmembers assigned to the flight, and how far from home base the flight is taking place (think jet lag and circadian rhythms). So, while our large group charter passengers can binge-watch for the entire flight, crews need to get some shut-eye.
So where is all this resting and sleeping going on? For flights that don’t exceed the duty and block hour limits, it happens on the ground, either in a hotel away from base or at the crewmember's home. However, on flights that exceed duty limits, it’s supplemental crew time! This means that additional pilots and crewmembers will work during the flight, rotating in order to accommodate the crew rest requirements. While there are less swanky digs (or none at all) on shorter range aircraft, the aircraft that we arrange for our large group air charter clients are often long-haul aircraft. Think big 250 + passenger aircraft. If you are lucky enough to be on a private charter flight for a large group, depending on where you are sitting and what aircraft you are aboard, there may be snoozing crew members right above your head. Sometimes you may see a pilot rest section with a curtain around it. Who do they think they are, with their snooty curtains? Point of fact, the curtain is mandated by federal regulation. Plus, how well would you rest if a plane full of people were staring at you, wondering why the pilot was sleeping?
If you are aboard a 787 Dreamliner, what does the crew rest space look like? These photos will probably make you jealous if you are in economy. But hey, we want our crews rested and ready.
Rest is Good
Why does the Man pay such close attention to crew rest? Aviation history has taught us a lot about human factors. One lesson is that fatigue adversely affects cognition and performance. Airlines and regulatory authorities have worked closely to develop safeguards to ensure that aircrew are adequately rested. This regulatory framework will continue to evolve as aircraft are able to fly longer distances. Someday supplemental pilots will be floating above their passengers in a crew rest compartment on one of our private group charter flights to Mars, but that’s for another blog. Sweet dreams!