Passengers need to know the pilots in control of their flight are up to the task. But a new survey reveals that might not always be the case, news.com.au reports.

One in four pilots are getting less than five hours sleep the day before entering the cockpit for long-haul flights, a worrying Australian report on pilot fatigue has found.

A survey of 625 pilots by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) focused on how much rest pilots got before controlling domestic, international, charter and aeromedical flights.

It found while most pilots got enough rest, many did not — and sleep of less than five hours could be linked to impaired performance on the flight.

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About 10 per cent of pilots said they got less than five hours of sleep in the day before the flight, and 17 per cent said they slept for less than 12 hours over the previous two days.

"These sleep thresholds have been shown to be associated with impaired performance," the report said.

The report found less sleep on duty was more of an issue among international and domestic pilots.

About a third said they got about as much sleep on duty as they did at home, while around 15 per cent of international pilots said they had "no rest" during their last international flight.

Domestic pilots reported they felt rest periods were too short and time on duty was too long.

They also said access to food while on duty could be more difficult compared to other pilots.

One in four pilots are getting less than five hours sleep the day before entering the cockpit for long-haul flights. Photo / Getty Images
One in four pilots are getting less than five hours sleep the day before entering the cockpit for long-haul flights. Photo / Getty Images

Also concerning was about one in three pilots said they had removed themselves from duty at least once in the past year, mostly between one and three days, as a result of fatigue — but felt that action had left a negative impression with management, and they didn't feel comfortable doing it.

The report said the responsibility of managing the risk of fatigue was shared between the pilot and their employer.

"It is important for operators to implement policies to reduce the likelihood of fatigue-related issues through rostering practices and by providing an organisational culture where crew can report fatigue in a supportive environment," the ATSB said.

"The results of this research suggest that operating in circumstances conducive to fatigue is an ongoing challenge for a proportion of Australian air transport pilots."

The survey overlooked an important question — how many pilots had fallen asleep mid-flight, Australian and International Pilots Association safety and technical director Shane Loney told The Australian.

There have been instances where pilots have unintentionally fallen asleep on the flight, a pilot safety expert said. Photo / Getty Images
There have been instances where pilots have unintentionally fallen asleep on the flight, a pilot safety expert said. Photo / Getty Images

"I've seen that asked live to a group of 250 to 300 pilots and it is almost shocking when you see how many people put their hand up," he said.

"What is worse is the odd occasion when you have two pilots who have unintentionally fallen asleep.

"It happens a lot more often than we'd like to imagine."

But with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in the process of drawing up new fatigue risk management rules, Mr Loney said the survey results came at a good time.

"When you've got 30 per cent of long-haul pilots reporting less than 12 hours of sleep in 48 hours, that's quite a sleep debt you're building up," he told The Australian.

"It demonstrates to CASA this is real. It's not something dreamt up by pilots out of some industrial gambit."