Airport Operations Human Factors: Alertness Management

Alertness Management in Airport Operations

Alertness is a critical pre-requisite for safe and efficient performance in all airport operations. Many incident and accidents are caused by the lack of alertness during operation. In particular, the pilots need to have high alertness during flight so that they can think wisely, act and able to perform the procedures in flying correctly. Hence, the biggest threat and culprit to pilot's alertness is the fatigue level of an individual. In Aug 1993, a DC-8-61 operating as American International Airline (AIA) flight 808 crashed into low level terrain short of approach end runway 10 (NTSB, 1994). The poor judgement and wrong decision making from the pilots were the result severe tiredness due to long duty hours. Fatigue is caused due to lack of proper rest and sleep during the scheduled operations and it causes physical and mental exertion of the personnel involved. Airport operations personnel who have worked extended hours recall that they were fatigued more, than they remember the work they performed. The entire workforce is susceptible to errors induced by fatigue. These factors contribute to the reduced alertness levels of the personnel involved in the airport operations. Alertness management becomes a more important safety concern in a diverse operating environment such as an airport and flying. Hence the development and implementation of Alertness Management Program (AMP) is essential to an operation that helps to identify system discrepencies, improves on it and reduces errors by human during operations.

Challenges of Alertness Management Program (AMP) in Aviation industry

Airports operate 24 hour a day and that would require great number of employees to work in different operations in the airport. Therefore it is impossible to operate with just one shift crews, and shifts scheduling are to allow employees work adequate hours and rest to regain their energy before next work day. Furthermore, reduced number of workforce involved in airport operations to increase productivity and reducing costs in spite of growing demands of the industry, add more pressures on the remaining employees. Hence, managers face great challenges in maintain the Alertness/Fatigue management program as the operation requirements and limited manpower contradict the properness of the program. However without this program to serve as a tool to measure and manage alertness, airport operations will face with more Human Factor issues.

The concept of extended shifts and shift swapping impose greater demands on the personnel involved as they do not get adequate amount of time to rest or sleep. The alertness management program offers the necessary guidance for the workforce to meet the demands of the extended shifts. Also the workforce must be trained to manage time effectively such that they can avoid all the effects of fatigue like physical and mental impairability. Moreover, employees must be taught to know the effects of fatigue and how to identify and overcome them. They must also know the problems that they will encounter when doing shift work, such as the effect of circadian rythmn that disrupt body clock biologically. Hence, while airport requires 24 hours operations, implementing Alertness Management Program minimises the risks threatened by the requirement itself and improves on the employees knowledge of how unnoticeable effects in our daily lives, like tiredness can impede human proper functioning and cause danger during operation.

Design and Implementation of an Alertness Management Program (AMP)

The Alertness management program provides a multi-component approach that addresses different aspects of fatigue and its associated risks.

The major activities that are important in designing a Alertness Managment Program include

  • Education on Alertness
  • Development of Alertness Strategies
  • Healthy Sleep
  • Scheduling

Education on Alertness

The educational content in an Alertness Management Program includes a general introduction on sleep basics, circadian basics, aviation fatigue and alertness strategies3. The risks of accidents and injuries were found to increase as work load increases especially after more than 12 hours of work a day (Caruso et al., 2004, 2006; Knauth, 2007; Nachreiner, 2001). This does not include the circadian rythmn, that a human body has a clock that tells you when you feel sleepy and when you will be most alert. One example is when you fly to another time zone country in the morning and you feel extremely sleepy as the time at home base is at mid night. This has to again take into consideration of shift changing from morning to night shift. When you could not get yourself to sleep in the morning shift week as last week you spend the night week working where you suppose to be sleeping. This has cause disruption in quality sleep and the body rythmn before the body accustom to the pattern.

Development of Alertness Strategies

The alertness strategy module provides guidance and information on their use as preventive and countermeasures. These preventive strategies must be followed by the workforce and their performance before and after can be measured during the actual airport operations schedules3.

Healthy Sleep

Proper sleep is the critical factor which contributes to the alertness of a person. The work personnel must be educated about the specific sleep disorders and should be provided with te information on their diagnosis and ways to prevent fatigue. Tools addressing the sleep disorders and their effects can be supplied to the workforce such that it can educate them on improving their alertness3.

Experts have also found that a normal human being is to achieve 7 hours or more sleep in order to function properly (Doran et al., 2001). If a person could not attain the number of hours of sleep, sleep debts will occur and fatigue will cause human performance impairment. In this case, the person is sleep deprived and the only solution is to get more sleep to recuberate.


Scheduling is an important factor of an Alertness Management Program (AMP). The system fatigue factors existing in current scheduling policies and practices of an airport can be identified. Based on their analysis, specific schedules can be developed which addresses the identified fatigue risk factors3.

These are the four important components of an Alertness management program. After all the four components of an Alertness management program are implemented, an operational evaluation can be performed to check whether the program results produced the intended performance benefits.

In implementing an Alertness Management Program, more emphasis should be given towards

  • Seeking expertise to develop, implement and measuring the effectiveness of the program.
  • Fatigue/alertness management programs must adjust to shift rotation patterns, worker schedules, and local circumstances.
  • Encourage workforce participation and input.
  • Consider fatigue issues during event investigations1.

Results of a successful Alertness Management Program

  • Absenteeism and sickness lessen, and there are fewer injuries.
  • There is a decrease in rework and errors.
  • Self-awareness of fatigue increases.
  • Reduction in incidents related to fatigue/alertness1.
1. FAA (2007). Operator’s manual: Human factors in airport Operations. Retrieved from ATC Vantage Inc on 08 October 2011.
DOUGLAS DG8-61, N8d4CK, U.S. NAVAL AIR STATE ON GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA AUGUST 48,1993. Retrieved from [] on 05 Sep 2012.
3. Rosekind MR, Gregory KB, Mallis MM (2006). Alertness Management in Aviation Operations:Enhancing Performance and Sleep. Retrieved from Sacramento state college of continuing education on 08 October 2011
: Caruso :Caruso, C.C., Bushnell, T., Eggerth, D., Heitmann, A., Kojola, B., Newman, K., Rosa, R.R., Sauter, S. L., & Villa, B. (2006). Long working hours, safety, and health: Toward a national research agenda. America Journal of Industrial Medicine, 49(11), 930-942. : Doran2001 :Doran,S.M., Van Dongen, H. P., & Dinges, D.F.(2001). Sustained attention performance during sleep deprivation: Evidence of state instability. Archives Italiennes de Biologie, 139(3), 253-267.

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Gokul KrishnanGokul Krishnan

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