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Home > Air Safety > Can a pilot take a short nap in flight?
Can a pilot take a short nap in flight?
Aviation - Air Safety
Tuesday, 02 December 2008 15:12

Hi Captain Lim,

I have one simple question. In a particular flight, can one of the two pilots take a short nap during the flying? I mean, can he or she sleeps for a while in the cockpit while his colleague flies the plane? 

I know that for a long haul flight, there will be two teams to fly the aircraft alternately. But, let’s say that the pilots are too tired, flying short haul trip back and forth to the same destination in one day. Are they allowed to take a very short nap in the cockpit?  

This question may sounds a little bit silly but it keeps on popping up on my mind whenever I relieve my father on the wheels during our travel. I wonder if pilots are allowed to do the same thing in flight.  

Last but not least, congrats captain for setting up this wonderful website.    

Don Naza

Hi Don,

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) doesn't explicitly prohibit in-flight napping but it doesn't permit it either.   

However, a NASA study of fatigue found that tired people can experience brief periods of "microsleep," seconds or even minutes-long lapses when the eyes can be open but the brain is on hold. This is not what you want when your pilot is flying a demanding approach through turbulence, rain and low clouds at the end of an 8-hour flight that began at midnight.  

Fatigue is a killer. There have been a few crashes in which tired pilots made crucial mistakes they might have avoided if they had been rested. Power napping can help ensure they're alert at the right times.  

I know of at least one major airline that permits “controlled rests” or brief naps on lengthy flights with two pilots, but it comes with a strict set of conditions.  

Such naps, amongst other restrictions, must be at a non-critical stage of the flight (during the lean period of the cruise - avoid planned changes of flight level, fuel transfer or a forecast of bad weather), autopilot must be on, flight attendants must be informed of pilot's intention, the other pilot must be fully awake and remain in his seat at all times. A flight attendant must check in over the intercom with the non-sleeping pilot every 15 minutes or so.  

If all the safety items are considered, the pilot can take a nap of about 20 to 40 minutes in his seat in the cockpit.  Remember, some of the major airlines that permit such “controlled rests” stipulate that they only apply to long and not short haul flights.   

See my other related article here on “Did the pilots fall asleep?”

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