Don't be surprised if you get to know that your pilot is sleeping in the cockpit on a long flight. Rules have now been framed to allow them to take a power nap to fight fatigue, of course under stringent conditions.
Taking cue from global best practices, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has drafted rules to allow a pilot a short nap on flight deck, with the other pilot taking full control of the aircraft on a long-distance flight, official sources said.
The rules were framed after several pilots' unions sought changes in Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL) provisions on adequate rest to mitigate fatigue so that pilots remain alert and perform aircraft operations as per the safety norms.
Many countries already have rules to allow controlled rest (CR) to pilots while on their cockpit seats. This is among measures which are part of what the International Civil Aviation Organisation calls Fatigue Risk Management Systems.
Global aviation regulators started allowing controlled rest after a 1992 NASA study concluded that a pilot would be more alert for the approach phase of a flight if he or she rested 45 or less minutes during the pre-descent part of the flight.
Air safety regulations in many countries, including the US and those in Europe, already allow this practice. But on-duty cabin crew members are not allowed napping on duty.
The draft DGCA rules make it mandatory that CR would be allowed only on a flight of three or more hours and would commence only after the aircraft has completed its full climb and end 30 minutes before the descent begins.
Stringent conditions have been laid down by the DGCA which also make it clear that CR would always be allowed by the Captain and must be used during periods of low workload in cruise flight when weather conditions are benign.
The maximum time for CR would not be longer than 40 minutes with another 20 minutes for operational orientation before resuming flight deck duties.
The draft DGCA rules also make it clear that the resting pilot would keep his seat belt and harness fastened and move the seat to a position so that there is no "unintentional interference" with the flight controls.
During CR, the non-resting cockpit crew would take on full responsibilities of the resting pilot and exercise control of the aircraft at all times, including not leaving the seat and keeping seat belt and harness fastened.
In recent years, significant efforts have been made to develop new science-based regulations to address pilot fatigue. Among the concepts examined include controlled cockpit rest, or short naps in the cockpit especially on long flights.
Scientific evidence has shown that pilots are more mentally aware during more difficult phases of flight, such as during approach and landing, after taking a controlled rest.