Light Aviation and Hypoxia: Pilots’ Perspective and Cerebral Oximetry Monitorization

Sara Zorro, Jorge Miguel dos R Silva, Luís Patrão
ICAO Scientific Review: Analytics and Management Research (ceased publication)  •  Volume 1  •  2019  •  pp. 043-052

The general objective of this study is to analyze the relation between flight parameters and cerebral oximetry of the pilot during different flight situations.

Ultralight aviation pilots are exposed to different environmental situations due to the non-pressurized and non-acclimatized nature of the aircraft cabin. In a flying aircraft, any factor responsible for decreased mental function can result in errors that might threaten the life of the pilot, the passengers onboard and the people on the ground. Hypoxia can be one of those debilitating factors.

We used a developed survey to analyze specific questions about the hypoxia experiences of pilots and how a physiological monitoring system would be relevant to improving flight safety. Simultaneously, a portable and ergonomic monitoring system was built by the authors and tested on real flight environment. The statistic results show that hypoxia is a concerning situation.

Hypoxia is a serious condition for passengers flying in pressurized aircraft cabins and also for passengers who fly below 3,048 meters in unpressurized aircraft cabins. The results analysis proved that although most of the respondents reported no hypoxia symptoms, the majority of pilots found the physiological monitoring system useful and affirmed a willingness to use it. Providing education about early detection of hypoxia symptoms and how to react was considered crucial for most of the respondents, with only a few exceptions disagreeing on its importance. Comparing the altitude with the cerebral oximetry, we observed that a minimum mean value of regional cerebral oxygen saturation (rSO2 ) did not occur when the maximum altitude was reached as was expected; instead, it only occurred after a few seconds at a lower altitude.

Generally, most of the participating pilots agreed that there is a need for hypoxia education and training for unpressurized aircraft because the existing level of training is not extensive enough. The analyzed experimental flight was a smooth flight. The minimum mean value of regional cerebral oxygen saturation did not occur when the maximum altitude was reached, as it was expected.

Hypobaric chamber and flight simulator tests should be realized to analyze the psychophysiological behavior of the pilots when facing stressful situations. Additional flight tests must be done and more physiological parameters should be studied such as heart rate, temperature, sweat, fatigue and cognition.

Further research is necessary with the larger sample size, especially the light aviation pilots.

Ultralight Aviation, Hypoxia, Physiological Parameters, Monitoring System.
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