No flights of fancy for them
Three pilots—two from Jet airlines and one from Indian airlines—were grounded recently after they were found to have sleep problems. Anil Kumar from Indian Airlines (IA) slept through a meeting while the others, Raman Kapoor and Shailesh Gupta, working with Jet Airways, were noticed yawning continuously prior to boarding.delhi Updated: Jun 18, 2012 01:37 IST
Three pilots—two from Jet airlines and one from Indian airlines—were grounded recently after they were found to have sleep problems. Anil Kumar from Indian Airlines (IA) slept through a meeting while the others, Raman Kapoor and Shailesh Gupta, working with Jet Airways, were noticed yawning continuously prior to boarding.
Sleep tests found that Kumar and Kapoor were found to be suffering from sleep apnea—breathing temporarily stops during sleep due to blockage of the upper airways, while Gupta suffered from narcolepsy— a sleep disorder caused by dysfunction of the brain mechanism controlling sleeping and waking. If you have narcolepsy, you may have “sleep attacks” while in the middle of talking, working, or even driving."Actually, the only time the pilot has to be complete alert and awake is at the time of take-off and landing," said Kumar, captain with IA. "Everything is well controlled because of the auto-pilot, which turns on once the flight has attained a certain altitude. But the only worrying point is if the auto-pilot gets disconnected because of some snag, it could be fatal as the path could alter," he explained.
Gupta, a pilot with Jet Airlines, said that there had been instances when both the pilot and his co-pilot had dozed off. “Actually, 40% pilots flying internationally are sleep deprived but most will never admit,” he said.
“At least 70% of my patients are those who’ve had some kind of a brush with accident. Poor sleep takes a toll on one’s concentration, efficiency and ability to handle work,” said Dr Sanjay Manchanda, consultant, sleep medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi. “Sleep problems often get aggravated in those who are sleep starved. Pilots, bus and truck drivers, call centre executives, people in service industry are some professionals whose medical condition is almost always diagnosed because of their irregular time clocks,” he said.
“This is not only with pilots. It depends on what kind of jobs one does. A mismatch between sleep time and work time (circadian factors) often contributes to sleep problems. A sleep-deprived person is more likely to commit errors, cognitive problems also occur—and they may worsen if one has a sleep disorder syndrome,” said Dr JC Suri, sleep specialist at Safdarjung Hospital.
“If you repeatedly wake up feeling tired or sleepy, then you know that you should look up a doctor,” he says.
“Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Although the airlines sometimes pin-point one or two pilots and advise them sleep tests, this is not enough. India should devise routine sleep tests on all pilots to ensure safety of passengers,” said Dr MS Kanwar, consultant, sleep medicine at Apollo Hospital.
According to US law, pilots and interstate commercial drivers are required to undergo a two-year medical exam to check sleep disorders. “In India, no sleep tests are conducted. Pilots have a limit of flying no more than 10 hours at a stretch after which they get a 24-hour mandatory rest period. Most Indian Airlines pilots do not do more 2-3 hours of flying,” said an Air India official.
(All names of pilots have been changed on request)