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Recap from the FRMS Forum

The Fatigue Risk Management (FRMS) Forum’s annual meeting was recently held at the Tokyo Bay Hilton Hotel on April 15th and 16th, 2024. The FRMS Forum was established in 2008 for the primary benefit of organizations whose employees may be challenged with occupational alertness and for the purpose of providing a focus for the collection, analysis, and communication of information on Fatigue and Risk Management Systems and their related legislation and regulation. SAFTE-FAST Product Director Robert Mora, Director of Client Services Murray McGrath, and IBR Director of Sleep Science Jaime K. Devine traveled to Tokyo, Japan, to attend this year’s Forum. The two-day event was attended by representatives from over 50 organizations and 25 countries around the globe. Video recaps from Day 1 and Day 2 can be found on Fatigue Risk Management Science Limited’s LinkedIn page. (Bonus points if you can pick out Dr. Devine’s blonde mohawk from the Day 1 footage)

The Forum began informally with a cocktail reception at the Tokyo Bay Hilton’s Prime Luxe reception space on April 14th. Spirits and feelings of jet lag were high as veteran attendees greeted friends from previous years’ Forums and newcomers joined the mix. The following day, FRMS Forum, along with Fatigue Risk Management Science Limited and Japan Airlines (JAL), started the agenda with a warm welcome. The morning kicked off with a focus on fatigue management initiatives in Japan with presentations from the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, JAL, Jetstar Japan, and the Airline Pilot Association (ALPA) Japan.


After the mid-morning break, Qatar Airways discussed lessons learned from their management system. Some initiatives that have worked well for Qatar include publishing articles about fatigue reporting in the in-house magazine, reaching out to pilots personally after the submission of a fatigue report to check in on them, and making changes in response to pilot survey results. Vueling Airlines followed the presentation by Qatar. If you watched the video from Day 1 and are wondering about the gentleman holding the balloon, that would be the visual aids used by Vueling Airlines in their presentation to explain why organizations need an FRMS.


The format switched from presentations to panels in the afternoon in an attempt to prevent “PowerPoint fatigue.” Panelists discussed the importance of aircrew culture in fatigue management and later, how to empower aircrew to provide data without fear. Data sharing and privacy protection is a hot topic in aviation. The IBR science team’s report on aircrew preferences for data sharing for FRMS will be published in the May issue of the journal of Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance. Our findings were limited to a predominantly short-haul and aeromedical transport pilot population and the questions were focused on the sharing of sleep data from wearable devices. In total, 149 aviation professionals responded to the anonymous survey and indicated a greater likelihood of data sharing under conditions where a wearable device was provided to them by their organization over linking their personal device or completing a sleep log.


Workload was, yet again, the key phrase at the FRMS Forum, mirroring interest in fatigue due to work that we saw at the 2023 SAFTE-FAST User Conference and the 2024 SAFTE-FAST Australasia User Summit. Flight duty periods themselves can contribute to workload. Global operations now range from ultra-short haul (flights as short as 15 minutes) to ultra-long range (flights longer than 16 hours). Flying multiple sectors in a day can result in fatigue in short and medium-haul operations. The cognitive demands of take-off and landings, as well as sit times between flights (be they short or be they long) top the list of fatigue factors for shorter flights. Long flights may result in underload issues—crew become lulled into complacency by a lack of work tasks. Workload on flights of any length suffers at the hands of bad weather, regional geography, political restrictions, and unruly passengers.


Workload may not just be an issue of job tasks, but also a reflection of global pilot cultural changes towards work and the impact of the staffing crisis. Panelists on Day 2 discussed whether pilots are less resilient after the pandemic; it seems like the same amount of flying requires more crew than it used to. Crew are calling out sick or fatigued more frequently than in “the before times”, which in itself is good… but difficult to manage during a global pilot shortage. The shortage means that a lot of aircrews are young and inexperienced. It may be that the old-school dedication to grind culture hasn’t carried over to the younger generation but it’s also possible that the current cohort of pilots have not been properly trained on when to submit a fatigue report or when to call out sick. Staying home from work when you are sick is also something that we were all encouraged to do during the pandemic, so it may not be surprising that aircrew today are following through with recommendations from disease control experts by skipping work when they have a cold.


Panelists called attention to the fact that the staffing shortage extends beyond the cockpit. Australian operators may be familiar with the term Traffic Information Broadcasts by Aircraft (TIBA)-- procedures that allow aircraft to broadcast information in areas with an absence of air traffic service. TIBA could be considered the airspace equivalent of “no lifeguard on duty, swim at your own risk”. Australia has seen TIBA hot spots in recent years due to a shortage of air traffic controllers. Most air traffic avoids the restricted TIBA airspace because, you know, safety first. For more information on the TIBA phenomenon, check out the OpsGroup blog about it here: https://ops.group/blog/tiba-in-australia/.


A highlight of Day 2 was the presentations that focused on emerging technologies for fatigue monitoring. The point was made that the two mainstays of fatigue monitoring—psychomotor vigilance tests (PVT)[1] and actigraphy [2]—were both invented around 40 years ago. Newer tools that can be used to monitor fatigue in aviation include eye tracking technology, machine learning, wearables, mobile apps, special earbuds, and reports that show the pilot what their alertness is predicted to be during upcoming rosters. Eye tracking looks to be a promising measure for real-time fatigue in the cockpit. A presentation from Washington State University showed the results of a thorough laboratory validation of fatigue predictions from eye-tracking technology compared against PVT. These kinds of laboratory evaluations are an important and necessary first step when considering the adoption of any new technology for FRMS.


Last but not least, if you watched the recap video from Day 2, you are probably wondering why a number of attendees were wielding katana swords. The dinner reception on April 15th featured a cultural display of katana sword techniques by a professional. He then instructed a number of volunteers in the movements using prop swords. Safety is always a priority for FRMS experts, so sharp weapons were not mixed with an open bar. Attendees were then invited to take pictures with the swords and the swordsman. It was a wonderful peek at traditional Japanese martial arts swordsmanship during a conference that was more focused on the content than on experiencing the culture of the host city. Aptly put at the 1:00 mark in the Day 2 recap video, an All Nippon Airways representative says, “Tokyo is more than hotels and Disneyland. If you have time, you should go out and see the city.”


References

1. Dinges, D. F., & Powell, J. W. (1985). Microcomputer analyses of performance on a portable, simple visual RT task during sustained operations. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 17, 652-655
2. Kripke DF, Mullaney DJ, Messin S, Wyborney VG. Wrist actigraphic measures of sleep and rhythms. Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1978;44(5):674–6.

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