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Explained: IndiGo airlines' new 'Fatigue Analysis Tool' for its pilots

In response to a few pilot-fatigue incidents, IndiGo, one of the biggest airlines in India, is introducing a fatigue band to monitor pilots' alertness and fatigue

Samidha Jain
Published: Sep 14, 2023 03:36:25 PM IST
Updated: Sep 14, 2023 03:53:52 PM IST

Explained: IndiGo airlines' new 'Fatigue Analysis Tool' for its pilotsIn response to a few pilot-fatigue incidents, IndiGo is introducing a fatigue band to monitor pilots' fatigue. Image: Shutterstock

IndiGo, India's leading airline in terms of both passenger volume and fleet size, is actively developing a wrist device designed to gauge pilot fatigue and alertness levels before and after flights. As one of the world's fastest-growing airlines, IndiGo recently disclosed its partnership with the French aerospace giant Thales Group, positioning itself as an 'early adopter' of their cutting-edge Fatigue Analysis Tool.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, IndiGo affirmed that this will be a "proof-of-concept trial”. According to ANI, IndiGo said in a statement: "This initiative is to develop a fatigue detection model that offers detailed insights into demographic data, including routes, pairings, crew profiles, and more, going beyond traditional scheduling-focussed biomathematical models." In an internal communication addressed to pilots, the airline informed them that over the past year, they have collaborated with global organisations specialising in fields such as sleep science and the effects of duty schedules on pilots, according to ANI.

IndiGo, operating approximately 1,900 flights daily, employs over 4,000 pilots who perform up to four take offs and landings per day. This, first-of-its-kind endeavour is set to position IndiGo as a leader in airline safety and innovation, establishing a benchmark within the industry. In a communication sent to the pilots, IndiGo said that the wrist-strapped device along with a ground device will be available for use in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai.

Why the need for a fatigue detection device?

According to The Times of India, two recent incidents led the airline to draw focus on the issue of pilot fatigue and alertness. On August 17, an IndiGo pilot who was preparing to operate a flight collapsed and passed away at Nagpur airport. During the same week, a senior Indian pilot, while on board a Qatar Airways flight, fell ill and subsequently passed away. Owing to these incidents, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the Indian aviation watchdog, decided to conduct a review of pilot fatigue data that it has collected during spot checks and surveillance of airlines to see if regulations related to flight duty times or fatigue need to be changed, as per Reuters.  

How will the device work?

According to the press release from IndiGo, the programme will utilise real-time data, historical records and predictive analytics, with all collected data undergoing de-identification. The airline is planning to conduct a proof-of-concept trial for its technology-driven interface to assess pilot alertness levels in the coming months. Following its completion, they will jointly assess the effectiveness and precision of the gathered data. However, the airline does not intend to replace its existing fatigue risk management process. It will continue to encourage pilots to self-assess and report fatigue, file fatigue reports, and request relief from duty as necessary.

According to ANI, the programme, which has been developed after six years of extensive research, involves the analysis of specific flight patterns, with no video recordings being generated during data collection. The insights drawn from this data will guide determinations regarding pilot schedules, rest intervals, and overall duty rotations. Pilots will opt to employ the Thales ground device voluntarily to evaluate their alertness levels, dedicating a maximum of five minutes both before and after each flight.

More ‘Fatigue detection devices’ in transportation

In June, Telangana unveiled its plan to implement facial recognition technology to identify fatigue or distractions among government bus drivers. The introduction of this facial recognition system for monitoring TSRTC bus drivers is part of Project iRASTE, a collaborative initiative between the Telangana government and IIT-Hyderabad. The project's primary goal is to enhance road safety through the utilisation of AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) devices. This advanced technology is designed to detect various factors, including driver drowsiness, sleepiness, smoking and seatbelt usage. It will also monitor the driver's eye movements and generate a "driver assessment risk score" based on these parameters.

As per the New York Times, one of the first drowsy-driving monitoring systems to appear in the truckers’ cab in the US was a driver-facing camera that alerted the driver when it registered eyelids and head droops. Privacy concerns kept this technology from going far.

Some safety technology companies in the United States and Australia have also developed methods for detecting driver fatigue. For instance, Optalert, a leading medtech company in the US specialising in drowsiness and impairment detection, manufactures glasses that monitor a driver's eye blinking using an LED light monitor. Prolonged eyelid closure may indicate drowsiness, and real-time measurements are displayed on a dashboard-mounted device equipped with alarms and notifications.

Maven Machines, a prominent provider of trucking fleet management and transportation dispatch software in the US, has designed a headset capable of determining whether a driver is gazing ahead through the windshield, looking upward, downward or sideways. It also tracks mirror checks, which can decrease in frequency when a driver is becoming fatigued. The headset identifies head movements and sudden jerks, which are signs of a driver falling asleep.

SmartCap, an Australian company known for producing various industrial safety products, has developed a headband that can be worn with trucker caps, beanies or other headgear. This headband measures electronic brain waves and translates them into a measure of alertness or fatigue. It promptly notifies both the driver and a central monitoring system if the wearer appears drowsy.