Tired on the Tarmac? Fatigue Risk Management in Aviation Ground Operations


Discover essential strategies to manage fatigue and ensure safety in aviation ground operations, a must-read for industry professionals


The FAA has recently published a ground crew safety alert prompted by several incidents that occurred during aircraft towing or ground handling operations. The alert emphasizes that airlines need to have a safety management system (SMS)  that mitigates risks, including those affecting airfield workers.

Risks and Challenges in Ground Operations:

Workplace fatigue in airline ground operations workers poses serious and expensive risks to employees' safety and well-being, delays of flight operations, and damage to aircraft and equipment. The range of critical activities in ground operations including aircraft maintenance, baggage handling, refueling, and marshaling, are completed by workers often working long and irregular hours while subjected to significant environmental stressors, such as noise and extreme weather conditions.

Long and irregular work hours can disrupt circadian rhythms, making it challenging to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and get sufficient good quality sleep. Insufficient sleep can impair cognitive and motor skills and high-pressure situations and demanding physical labor can exacerbate the effects of fatigue, putting safety-critical personnel at an increased risk of experiencing accidents and other safety incidents. 

Recent Real-World Incident Highlight:

The risks associated with airport ground crew fatigue were highlighted in a spotlight published by Wall Street Journal. During aircraft towing operations, a ground crew member engaged in a safety lapse while working long hours. This unfortunate incident clearly demonstrates a need for fatigue risk management programs in aircraft ground operations. Safety is improved and airline operations become more dependable and efficient with the implementation of tactics such as fatigue risk management systems, work hour restrictions, and education on the effects of fatigue.

Strategies for Fatigue Risk Management:

To mitigate the inherent risks of long and irregular work hours, forward-thinking airlines are designing and implementing fatigue risk management systems (FRMS) for their ground operations and maintenance crews and integrating them into their SMS. 

Critical components of FRMS for aviation ground operations include work hour limitations, rest period minimums, and shift rotation guidelines. Education and training programs that promote awareness of the impact of fatigue and provide strategies for coping with it are also important to effective and successful FRMS.

To effectively mitigate fatigue risk, airlines need to continually assess and adjust its fatigue management strategies. CIRCADIAN is available to have a conversation about how your organization can implement new or boost its existing fatigue management strategies, including: 

  • Software tools to assess work schedule fatigue with a scientifically validated fatigue risk model
  • Consulting support to identify the drivers of fatigue risk in your operation 
  • Identifying the cost of fatigue and its impact on your safety record and workers compensation costs
  • Conducting a gap analysis of your existing fatigue risk management programs
  • Assessment tools to identify fatigue risk impairment and fitness-for-duty
  • Consulting help to draft or refine your fatigue risk management plan
  • Fatigue and sleep management training/education programs 

Take the Next Step Towards Ensuring Safety and Efficiency in Your Operations

As the aviation industry continues to navigate the complexities of ground operations, the importance of a robust Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) cannot be overstated. CIRCADIAN® stands at the forefront of this vital field, offering a suite of specialized services including the development of effective FRMS, comprehensive gap analyses, assessments, audits, and expert consulting.

Don’t let fatigue risks undermine your operations.

In addition, we invite you to explore our insightful white papers, each delving into key aspects of fatigue management:

At CIRCADIAN®, we're not just consultants; we're your partners in navigating the 24-hour economy. Let us help you turn the challenge of managing a 24/7 workforce into your competitive advantage.

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