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January 18, 2010 - Pilot Fatigue Cited in Airline Crashes

Pilot fatigue was likely a factor in at least four of seven airplane crashes involving regional carriers, federal safety investigators say.

The National Transportation Safety Board said two of the seven incidents, dating to 2002, involved Pinnacle Airlines, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

One Pinnacle pilot who, fearing reprisals, spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Times: "When you're tired and the workload is high, you sometimes have to fight to stay alert. You ask air traffic control to repeat calls. You can forget things."

Federal Aviation Administration regulations say during one 24-hour period, a duty shift for pilots may be up to 16 hours -- no more than eight of them flying. Airlines must provide eight to 12 hours of time off when a shift is over, depending upon the hours flown.

But jet lag, night flights and irregular hours affect a pilot's sleep cycle and performance.

Philip H. Trenary, chief executive of Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines Corp., told Congress during testimony last summer, "Our No. 1 guiding principle is 'never compromise safety.'"

"I used to love flying," the Pinnacle pilot said. "I am good at what I do, but Pinnacle and the airline industry have sucked the passion out of it for me."

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