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Dead tired: Professional Pilots’ Working-Conditions, Rosters, Stress, Sleep-Problems and Fatigue, and how they can affect Mood, Mental Health and Wellbeing

Professional Pilots’ Working-Conditions, Stress, Sleep-Problems, Fatigue and Mental Health

Marion Venus1,2*, Martin grosse Holtforth2

1 Venus Aviation Research and Training, Maur, Zurich, Switzerland

2 Department of Psychology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

*Corresponding Author: Diese E-Mail-Adresse ist vor Spambots geschützt! Zur Anzeige muss JavaScript eingeschaltet sein!




This research examines associations between actual duty-time related data, stress, employment-conditions, sleep-problems, fatigue and professional pilots’ mental health and well-being.


Whereas previous research focused on flight-schedules, duty- and flight-times, fatigue and their correlates in pilot performance and aviation-safety, this research investigates, how professional pilots’ schedules, work-related and psychosocial stress, sleep-problems and fatigue can affect their mental health, mood and well-being.


A cross-sectional online-survey was completed by 192 pilots flying for Europe-based operators, 180 Australian pilots and 34 pilots from other countries. Pilots had to report their actual duty-, flight-hours, flown sectors, standby-, rest-, vacation-days, number of early starts, night-flights, hours of physical exercise for the last two months. This schedule-related data, age, percent of employment as pilot, monthly net-income, flight-hours on the present type of aircraft, subjective job-security, psychosocial stress, fatigue (FSS) and sleep-problems (JSS) were used as independent variables to investigate, which significantly predict the mental-health-dimensions well-being (WHO-5), common mental disorders (SRQ-20), depression-symptoms (PHQ-8) and symptoms of generalized anxiety (GAD-7).


75.9% professional pilots reported to be severely fatigued (FSS ≥ 4), 54% were above pilots’ FSS M=4.51 (SD=0.98), while 24.2% reported multiple sleep-problems on eight or more days/month (JSS ≥ 3). For depression-symptoms, five predictors were significant (corr. R2=0.599; p<.001): more psychosocial stress (Beta=0.426), more sleep-problems (Beta=0.345), more fatigue (Beta=0.145), less sports (Beta=-0.111), lower income (Beta=-0.109) were associated with more symptoms of depression. For generalized anxiety-symptoms, five predictors were significant (corr. R2=0.515; p<.001): more psychosocial stress (Beta=0.489), more sleep-problems (Beta=0.276), lower job-security (Beta=-0.115), less flight-hours on the present type of aircraft (Beta=-0.104), lower income (Beta=-0.086) were associated with more symptoms of generalized anxiety. Age was no significant predictor for all four mental health dimensions.


Our findings suggest that present flight-time-limitations likely do not prevent fatigue and potentially foster sleep-problems, since professional pilots report high levels of fatigue. Psychosocial stress and sleep-problems in combination with low income, job-insecurity etc. correlated positively with impaired mental fitness. While fatigue significantly predicted depression-symptoms and well-being, less experience on the present type of aircraft and low job-security significantly predicted symptoms of generalized anxiety.



February 2020
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