BALPA highlights concerns over pilot fatigue

This weeks revelations from the BBC, that Britain’s airline pilots are becoming increasingly fatigued has been welcomed by the British Airline Pilots’ Association which represents over 85% of the UK’s 10,000 airline pilots.‘It is time the public was told what is happening in our skies,’ said Captain Mervyn Granshaw, chairman of BALPA. ‘We have a very real problem, the problem is getting worse, and if the Government doesn’t step in, we may
have some major incidents on our hands.

‘What is worrying is what pilots are telling us. In a poll conducted by the Wilson Institute in the USA, 80% of pilots declared that the public should be concerned about the fatigue being experienced by flight crew in whose hands their lives depend.

‘Some 25% of pilots said the public should be very concerned.’

Fatigue is growing among pilots because a new generation of computer rostering systems used to design flight schedules ’ is relentlessly squeezing every last drop out of flight crew day after day after day,’ said Captain Granshaw.

There are faster turnarounds, more intensive flying, the mixing of early starts, night flying and even long hauls within just a few days, and pilot time zone ‘body clocks’ are more scrambled and pressured than ever.


’ Increasingly pilots return from duty absolutely exhausted, ’ Captain Granshaw added. The Wilson poll shows that 38.3% of pilots now say they return fatigued and 80% of pilots who say they are fatigued say this affects their performance in the air.’.

Science and experience has guided the Civil Aviation Authority to maintain a rule of 900 maximum flying hours a year, but that was always the maximum, to be approached with caution.

Now, pilots say, airlines treat that figure as a target. ‘Airlines try to make their pilots fly as close to the limit as they can, ’ Captain Granshaw said. ‘But the CAA regulation, called CAP 371, was never meant to be interpreted like that. Today’s intensity and mix of flying patterns is something the architects of the rule could not forsee.’

Compared with five years ago, the Wilson poll revealed, 58% of pilots work more hours and more days, and one third said ‘significantly more.’ Some 80% of pilots who say they are fatigued say this affects their performance in the air.

Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of BALPA said: ‘What also worries us is that over half the pilots said that they felt unable to refuse to fly if they felt fatigued because they would face disciplinary action. One in four pilots said that senior management would never back them, and 38% thought the Civil Aviation Authority was unjustifiably being neutral on this issue.

‘This is why we are saying that Government has to step in. If it does nothing then sooner or later we are going to have incidents.’

BALPA is calling on the Government to:
? convene a high level conference on the issue for airlines, BALPA. and scientific and safety experts.
? recognise that the CAA’s regulations, especially CAP 371, need to be changed in the light of today’s unimaginable flying patterns.
? seek to drive forward the scientific review now being undertaken on the EU’s new flight time limitations.
? commit to running further surveys like the Wilson poll over coming years.

BALPA also wants the Government to urge the full implementation of the SAFE computer programme, developed over 15 years with many trials by pilots. which provides an independent human physiology check over any proposed flight patterns.

‘We are raising these issues with Government, and welcome the BBC’s intervention with the general public,’ said Jim McAuslan. ’ What is happening in our skies needs to be told. Passengers in particular have a right to know.’