Australian research into pilot fatigue resulting from sleep deprivation features prominently in a CBC investigation into a serious of fatal regional airline crashes in Canada which premiered in that country overnight.

The obvious question is, why haven’t Australian carriers, and the safety regulator CASA, yet applied that research to pilot fatigue issues in this country? As the CBC report makes clear, the Canadian regulator, Transport Canada, is only now and with some reluctance, moving to implement fatigue management reforms.

In the report Professor Drew Dawson, director of the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of South Australia, asks “If it’s not OK to be impaired due to alcohol, why is it OK to have the same level of impairment due to fatigue?”

Research showed that when people were working 18 to 20 hours they became almost as impaired as someone with a blood-alcohol level of .05 to .07 per cent.

The Australian study also showed that impairment rose to an equivalent of 0.1 blood-alcohol level when participants had been awake for 24 hours.

The program says that in one of Dawson’s studies, he also found that with five or less hours of sleep, pilots doubled the number of mistakes they made.

The president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, Captain Barry Jackson, says he is “disappointed with the lack of progress on fatigue management plans in Australia.”

Jackson says “We are world leaders in sleep deprivation studies, yet very slow to act on the findings, which would allow us to fly more safely by understanding the limits and including them in flight planning whether a pilot is making many short flights or a long haul flight within a roster.”

He says the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) will be notifying signatory nations in the near future that they have until November 2011 to have fatigue risk management plans in place.