Commentary Last week a Thomas Cook airline pilot in the UK won a very significant victory against his airline for putting him under pressure to commit an illegal act by flying when he would be dangerously fatigued.
The implications for this need to be considered in Australia. Are Australian pilots being bullied or pressured into bending the rules and flying when they are so tired they are a danger to air safety?
This isn’t a question that can be tritely answered by “safety is our number one concern” press releases. Nor is it easily convincingly answered for those who believe the very culture of air safety in airlines is being diluted by a new generation of Yes Men and Women who will accept crappy conditions of employment and go along with whatever pressure managements may from time to time apply to them.
The hard wired attitude of Government and Administration in this country to air safety controversies is to wait for ‘guidance’ from airline managements, and then say, in effect, there is nothing to see here, move on.
That’s why this post only asks the question, rather than pretend to have an answer, or go through the motions of being fobbed off by the airlines and authorities.
The question can only be answered by a serious public inquiry, perhaps at a Parliamentary level, at which instances of pressure to bend to the rules, can be examined and debated with a view to ensuring Australia has the right flight fatigue rules in place, not just for pilots but cabin crew, whose real role is to save lives in an efficient evacuation in the event of a survivable crash, or other operational crisis.
Release date: 13/12/2016
An airline captain and member of the British Airline Pilots’ Association has accepted an apology from an airline after being sanctioned for refusing to fly due to fatigue, as well as assurances that the company remains committed to passenger safety.
Captain Mike Simkins was suspended by Thomas Cook Airlines for six months and threatened with dismissal after refusing to fly his Boeing 767 with over 200 passengers due to being fatigued. Captain Simkins took the case to an Employment Tribunal which unanimously found in his favour and against the airline.
Simkins took the difficult decision not to fly after three extremely early starts in a row, including one 18-hour day, and what would have been a 19-hour day to follow. Thomas Cook’s own fatigue monitoring software showed that because of the run of duties he had done, if he had flown his rostered flight he would have landed at the end of his duty with a predicted performance loss that would have been similar to being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying.
Dr Rob Hunter, BALPA’s Head of Flight Safety, said. “Not only is it reasonable to refuse to fly when fatigued, it is absolutely necessary. In fact, the law states that a pilot must not operate when fatigued, or likely to become fatigued. Captain Simkins should have been praised by Thomas Cook for reporting his fatigued state as required by law, not disciplined.
“Fatigue is a major threat to flight safety and a good, open safety culture is vital in ensuring that pilots and other staff members feel able to report fatigued and not put lives at stake.”
Brian Strutton, BALPA General Secretary, also commented. He said, “Captain Simkins should be commended for taking this matter up and seeing it through to its conclusion. I am also pleased that BALPA helped fund Captain Simkins’ legal battles, and provided substantial expert and staff support.
“Tackling fatigue remains BALPA’s number one flight safety priority and we will continue to work with airlines to do that where we can, and challenge them using any means necessary when we can’t.”
Please find the judgement here.
Any BALPA members with legal enquiries should contact [email protected]