Shiftwork in Aviation


Shiftwork is very common in the Aviation Industry. Jobs that are often linked to shiftwork include; pilot, cabin crew, ATC, check-in, baggage handling and many more.

Types of shiftwork can include

  • Continuous shiftwork
  • Permanent shiftwork (e.g. always on 'morning' shift)
  • Shiftwork that can be with or without night work

Factors affecting shiftwork

The World Health Organisation; International Agency for Research on Cancer 1 indicates that factors that affect shift work can be broken down into five sections:

Family and Living Conditions

  • Maritial status
  • Number and age of children
  • Work conducted by partner
  • Housing conditions
  • Family attitudes
  • Family Income

Social Conditions

  • Shiftwork tradition
  • Community organisations
  • Social improvement
  • Social Support
  • Commuting
  • Public Services avaliable and used

Individual Characteristics

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Circadian Structure
  • Personality and Bahaviour
  • Sleep Strategy
  • State of health

Working Hours

  • Shift schedule
  • Timetables
  • Overtime
  • Amount of night work being conducted
  • Flexible time arrangements

Working Conditions

  • Compensation measures
  • Monetary compensation
  • Work organisation
  • Job satisfaction
  • Work load
  • Counselling

What can be done?

Although it can be seen that employers cannot easily influence family and living conditions, social conditions or individual characteristics, they should therefore try their best to influence working conditions and working hours in such a way that the organisation and the employee can both benefit.

In aviation avoiding shiftwork is often impossible. Therefore it is important that employees recognise the effect that undergoing shift work may have and seek to minimise any negative impacts that could be ocuring.

If it is known in advance what shifts you will be required to do, then you can aim to plan and make changes to your usual activities to help minimise the effects of shiftwork. For example if you were co-parenting with someone else you may be able to arrange for them to care for the children the night before and after your late-night shifts are due to start/end.

It is important that the effects that shiftwork can have on the body and mind are understood so that mitigation of the effects can occur.

The following pages provide excellent information about fatigue and sleep disruption for air crew: Sleep Disruption in Aviation Fatigue in Aviation

Air Medical Staff Example

Air medical staff are often required to be on-duty for up to 24 hours at a time. This has been identified to have potential physiological and psychological challenges2. Missing one night of sleep (due to being on-duty) can decrease cognitive performance by up to 25%, this rate increases to 60% if a subsequent loss of sleep occurs the following night2.

Night Shift

Those who undertake night-shift employment are also increasing their risk of2:

  • Gastrointestinal Disease
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Breast Cancer Risk
  • Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes

Post-night shift sleep has been found to contain lower quality sleep. The sleep is also often of shorter duration of a normal night sleep.


1 : World Health Organisation; International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2010) Painting, Firefighting, and Shiftwork IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, 98, 563-764. An electronic link to this source can be found here

2. Frakes, M. A., & Kelly, J. G. (2007). Sleep debt and outside employment patterns in helicopter air medical staff working 24-hour shifts. Air Medical Journal, 26(1), 45-49.

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