x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pilots call for action on fatigue

Emirates Airline says it was the subject of an FAA complaint about crew tiredness but says it has been exonerated.

An Emirates plane takes off from Terminal 2 of Dubai International Airport. The airline yesterday said it urgently had to address complaints about pilot fatigue.
An Emirates plane takes off from Terminal 2 of Dubai International Airport. The airline yesterday said it urgently had to address complaints about pilot fatigue.

Pilot fatigue is becoming a global problem that requires urgent attention as airlines compete in an increasingly cut-throat environment, industry experts have warned. A fatigued pilot is more prone to mistakes than someone who has consumed alcohol, pilot advocates say, and new regulations should be put in place to help prevent it. "Over the years there have been quite a number of accidents in which fatigue has played a part and it's estimated that as many as 20 per cent of accidents have fatigue as a significant factor," said Capt Philip Smith, a flight safety expert with the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa). International guidelines were urgently needed to create a "level playing field", Capt Smith said, and to prevent airlines putting profits before safety in the increasingly competitive environment. The issue of fatigue came to the fore in Europe yesterday, when pilots from 36 nations gathered to protest against new European regulations that experts say ignore the latest scientific research on fatigue and may undermine more stringent national guidelines. The European Cockpit Association, representing up to 38,200 pilots, said the EU's European Aviation Safety Agency refuses to act on a report by an independent experts that recommends fewer flight hours to combat fatigue in pilots and cabin crews. The protests also coincided with a statement by Emirates Airline yesterday that it was responding to the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) over a complaint about fatigue made through the regulator's anonymous hotline last year. Emirates said it had been requested to provide details of its flight and duty times and fatigue management risk system. The airline said it was a leader in managing tiredness among its crews, limiting its pilots to flying 100 hours in any 28-day period and 900 hours per year. In March, a Dubai-bound Emirates flight carrying 275 people struggled to get airborne in Melbourne when a pilot entered the weight of the aircraft incorrectly into flight computers. The pilot had flown 98.9 hours over the previous month, close to the 100-hour maximum allowed by Emirates, but a preliminary report by the Australian Transport & Safety Bureau indicated that it found no evidence that fatigue was a factor in the accident. Emirates stressed that there had been two complete sets of flight crew on board the plane, and refuted allegations in the Australian press that its crews were not getting enough inflight rest. Dr Martin Moore-Ede, chief executive of Circadian, a workforce safety consultancy that is studying the issue of fatigue for several major airlines, said introducing regulations to combat flight fatigue is complicated, and simply limiting the number of hours a pilot flies was an outdated idea. How those hours were scheduled, the time of day and whether flights were long- or short-haul, all affected how tired a pilot could become. "Airlines need to introduce fatigue risk management systems, which is a comprehensive safety management system addressing all the parts of fatigue, not just hourly limits," Dr Moore-Ede said. "Pressure on pilots is growing," said Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of Balpa. "With competition between airlines now so brutal, safety must be beyond question and competition should be on the basis of the product, not by working pilots beyond what is safe." lmorris@thenational.ae