“My mind clicks on and off. I try letting one eyelid close at a time while I prop the other with my will. But the effect is too much, sleep is winning, my whole body argues dully that nothing, nothing life can attain is quite so desirable as sleep. My mind is losing resolution and control.”
The famous words from Charles Lindbergh about his historic 1927 solo transatlantic flight are not quite the lament of today’s low cost airline pilot but evidence is mounting that the significant increase in work and life stressors combined with gruelling work schedule is turning flying into a repetitive chore for many.
The mental state of pilots has been brought into sharp focus after Andreas Lubitz programmed his Germanwings A320 to fly into the French Alps on March 24 killing 150.
Interviewing three pilots with similar careers paths for this article was sobering, if not troubling, and possibly a reflection of Peter Finch in the 1976 film Network playing news anchor Howard Beale imploring viewers to go to their windows and yell “I am as mad as hell! I can’t take this anymore.”
The performance won Finch a best actor Oscar – but are pilots acting up?
Well not according to a 2008 NASA report The Effects of Life Stress on Pilot Performance authored by James Young which cites Bowles, Ursin, and Picano (2000) who found that “stress researchers have recognized that the pilot has one of the most stressful jobs.”