The 2023 SAFTE-FAST User Conference was recently hosted by Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras at UniAzul in Campinas, Brazil, just northwest of São Paulo. Our host, Azul, is the largest airline in Brazil in terms of number of flights and cities served, with approximately 900 daily flights to more than 150 destinations. Azul won the award for best airline in the world by TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice in 2020. SAFTE-FAST worked closely with Azul’s human factors team during the pandemic when the airline flew several humanitarian missions to China for medical supplies (whitepaper). The data from those flights are published here. Azul lived up to its reputation for excellence during the conference. Azul representatives ensured the conference attendees arrived safely and received the best possible treatment. Dr. Hursh started the conference off by thanking the Azul team for their hard work, especially Renato Achoa, Renan Frota, Audrey Simões, Augusto Dalazen, Diego Silva, and Marina Rapuano.
The conference was attended by over 50 SAFTE-FAST users from the Americas, Europe, and Japan. Day one featured presentations from Azul, Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil (ANAC), GOL airlines, IBR, Air France, Baines Simmons, and Japan Airlines as well as two panels on scheduling and workload. Capt. Audrey Simões gave an overview of Azul’s digital fatigue reporting system, which allows crew members to indicate beforehand if they think a roster will be fatiguing and identify which specific issues they think are causing fatigue in addition to calling out fatigue during a roster. Azul also has weekly fatigue meetings and an emphasis on just culture—meaning that accountability is shared by the entire team. Next, Dr. Izabela Tissot from ANAC described the results of a recent report assessing sleep, fatigue, and perceptions of sleepiness in Brazilian pilots. After a coffee break, Robert Mora chaired a panel on scheduling and safety with panelists Jason Harris from United Airlines, Greg Masters from JetBlue, and Diego Silva from Azul. The session focused on the difference between optimizers and biomathematical models like SAFTE-FAST. Optimizers may not account for human behavior when it comes to rest opportunities. This may lead to schedules with rest opportunities during hours that are not actually conducive to sleep, like the daytime. Optimizers also do not account for workload. Both these topics related to Dr. Steven Hursh’s presentations on SAFTE-FAST’s new Dynamic Sleep Rhythm Amplitude and Modeling Workload in SAFTE-FAST.
Dr. Hursh described a substantial update on how SAFTE-FAST penalizes sleep that occurs out-of-phase. Sleep can be out of phase either because of shift work or jet lag, but jet-lagged individuals benefit from environmental cues that indicate sleep in a new time zone (i.e., darkness). Jet-lagged individuals also readapt to their home schedules more quickly than previously expected. Previous modeling treated out-of-phase sleep equally, but the new Dynamic Sleep Rhythm Amplitude penalizes sleep in transmeridian travelers based on exposure to local light cues. Larissa Corrade from GOL next discussed the fatigue reporting process, crew fatigue evaluations survey, and the GOL2gether peer support program. The GOL2gether program provides crew members with connections and resources to combat mental health issues, burnout, and even addiction. Dr. Sarah Booth from the aviation safety management consultancy Baines Simmons reported the results of a survey undertaken in collaboration with European Pilots, available here. In a nutshell, 53% of the nearly 6,900 pilots surveyed believe that fatigue is not well managed by their organization. Seventy-six percent (76%) of pilots reported having a microsleep within the last four weeks! Dr. Booth discussed the next steps for improving fatigue risk management in European pilots.
The afternoon panel on Workload was chaired by Murray McGrath with panelists Capt. Tulio Rodrigues, PhD, from the Pilots Association at GOL (ASAGOL), Lucas Johnson from American Airlines, and Eric Langlois from Air France. Who could predict that after two years of being told they could not travel, people are anxious to get away? At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in significant turnover in aviation. Many pilots were laid off during the pandemic or chose to transition to a new position. We are in the midst of a pilot shortage, resulting in newly hired, inexperienced pilots overwhelming the roster pool. As one panelist said, there was a loss of “tribal knowledge.” Problems that an airline seemed to have solved years ago are back because older pilots are not around to teach the newbies the ropes. Because of the increased workload and staff shortages, crew members are on the brink of burnout.
Air France and Japan Airlines both addressed workload concerns during their afternoon presentations as well. Eric Langlois described how the results of their cabin crew workload survey have been used to modify SAFTE-FAST modeling and develop a new fatigue risk matrix for Air France. Capt. Takeshi Tanaka and Kae Yoshida from Japan Airlines closed out the day by outlining workload issues specific to Japanese carriers, such as the mountainous terrain around most Japanese airports, the inability to cross Russian airspace due to the conflict in Ukraine, and the presence of volcanic ash. The Japan Airline delegates also traveled the farthest of any attendees to the User Conference, personally enduring many of the workload factors they spoke about to attend.
Conference attendees also got to experience the workload factor of adverse weather firsthand during the presentations. A thunderstorm knocked out the power, causing a slight delay in the schedule. The Azul team got everything up and running again in mere moments. Between the power outage and the many questions and interactions from the group, the last talk of the day needed to be pushed to Day 2. Fortunately, attendees could continue to chat about fatigue factors during the dinner reception at Boteco São Bento in downtown Campinas. Day 2 began with Captain Tulio Rodrigues, PhD from ASAGOL and the spokesperson for the Fadigômetro Project, describing workload patterns and fatigue scores for Brazilian pilots. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Capt. Rodrigues and Dr. Tissot from ANAC had similar findings regarding Brazilian pilots’ fatigue issues. Workload factors like early mornings, long days, and short breaks between duty periods were related to increased fatigue in both studies.
Workload was a major theme of the 2023 SAFTE-FAST User Conference. Japan Airlines admitted that they chose SAFTE-FAST specifically to be able to model workload. Many other attendees discussed their plans for conducting workload studies and addressing the unique issue of modeling workload. The SAFTE-FAST team presented two workshops related to workload-- Modeling the Fatigue Hazards Associated with Workload by Dr. Hursh, and Fatigue at Work by Dr. Devine. Dr. Hursh described how biomathematical modeling can put “soft problems” into hard numbers that can be used to educate people about things that they didn’t think were important. SAFTE-FAST models workload separately from Effectiveness, with an overlap in low Effectiveness and high Workload indicating a safety risk. Dr. Devine outlined the different fatigue domains in the context of work, with examples from the literature to support how fatigue factors can interact to create a compound risk.
The Harmonization Studies workshop educated attendees on the role of the harmonizer—SAFTE-FAST’s iterative process for finding the closest match in Auto-Sleep settings compared to objective data collected in a specific population. Ben Brown from SAFTE-FAST next described how data tags can add context to scheduling data, customize parameter rules, or adjust workload rules. Robert Mora finished up the workshops with Day of Operations Modeling—a review of the SAFTE-FAST Real Time solution for day-of-operation crew scheduling systems. After lunch, attendees were treated to a special tour of Azul’s simulators. Azul cabin crew are trained in a simulator that can replicate emergency scenarios such as fire on board using a digital fire extinguisher, food service, and even wine tasting to better serve the customers in first class. Pilots also complete the emergency cabin training (but must sneak in if they want to learn about wine tasting). The cabin simulator also featured an evacuation slide. Unfortunately, for safety purposes, attendees were not allowed to ride the slide. Conference attendees did get to ride in an Airbus flight simulator, though. Under the cautious gaze of Azul instructors, riders could practice take-off and landing the plane on a runway in computer-generated Rio de Janeiro. The view from the simulator was truly impressive, with one attendee even pointing out a digital cow wandering around in a field below.
The SAFTE-FAST team is so thankful to Azul for organizing a wonderful conference and grateful to all of our users who could attend and present. These are trying times for fatigue in aviation. Workload and burnout are on the rise among airline employees, and the pilot shortage means more work for everyone. All presentations can be viewed online here. The science team is already marinating on ideas to improve workload modeling and the mental factors of fatigue.
Can’t wait to see you in 2024!