Indian pilots lack sleep as social media use keeps them up – Air Force Chief

In the war for a good night’s sleep, India’s top air force official has called for the service to develop a system to assess how well rested their pilots are before they fly. “Long hours” on social media are to blame.

“Everybody appears to be spending long hours on social media, late nights,” Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa told the 57th Indian Society of Aerospace Medicine conference in Bengaluru on Friday.

“Most flight briefings, sometimes, are as early as 6 am and pilots haven’t had enough sleep,” he added, according to Indian news agency PTI.

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Female students attend a class at the Bombay Flying Club's College of Aviation in Mumbai, India. © Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Dhanoa went on to say that while the Indian Air Force (IAF) had systems in place to tell if pilots had alcohol in their system before taking to the skies, no such system was in place to test for how well rested they were.

“Earlier if a pilot had one drink too many, the bar man would know. If he failed to notice, the others would know and he would be laid off flying for the day. Today we even have breath analysers.”

“Therefore, we need a system where one can find out if a pilot had enough sleep,” he added.

Dhanoa’s calls for such a system come two weeks after the Indian Army acknowledged that it would be impossible to prevent soldiers from using social media and their smartphones, allowing for smartphone use within controlled discipline.

While the army have accepted that smartphones are here to stay, the effect for airmen poses a more dangerous threat for the IAF, which at 3.2 air accidents for every 10,000 flying hours, has the highest crash rate of any air force.

In March, it was reported that the IAF have lost 31 aircraft to accidents in the four years between 2014 and 2018.

While lack of sleep hasn’t been the cause of all the accidents, Dhanoa did admit that a fatal accident in 2013 was caused by the pilot not having enough sleep over a long period of  time.

“I request the medical practitioners to find a solution for this problem,” he concluded.

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