Blog one of a series on issues affecting pilots and the industry - Fatigue
If the PPU is about anything it’s about pilots; their career, workload, and welfare. The PPU board is staffed by pilots who have many decades of flying experience among them, both in the military and private sector. So there’s not much they don’t know about the work of a pilot – and the risks.
The airline industry is going through change – it was ever thus. But we’re not talking about the latest Dreamliner or the planned Russian supersonic airliner. No, we’re talking about the relentless drive to cut ticket prices, and it’s this change that is proving to be seen by many observers as the biggest risk to the industry.
Costs have to be cut, air crew need to be in the air more frequently to keep those costs down, and every aspect of a pilot’s work is scrutinised to squeeze the last economy from them. As we have said in previous blogs on this website, we understand the business and the need to remain competitive. After all, airlines can’t rely on brand loyalty alone to fill aircraft seats.
But there is a cause and effect. Within the PPU membership over very recent years we have witnessed the impact on pilots of these competition-driven changes, and the element that crops up time and again is fatigue. Fatigue in itself is not a sickness, clearly. Pilot fatigue is brought on primarily from insufficient rest between flights, jet-lag, quick turnarounds and night flying through time zones, among others.
Much has been written on this subject, but from where we stand there’s an issue to be addressed. A view expressed frequently elsewhere is that fatigue is a significant safety risk in commercial flying (see this research paper here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021958/ ), which would clearly be a concern to the PPU and any airline if it were to be proven fact. In cases where aircraft have come down and fatigue is described as a contributory factor (see: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35855678 )this connection is generally reported anecdotally with little corroborating evidence to present it as a main cause.
With hard evidence that irrefutably demonstrates the levels of fatigue among pilots, highlights the identified causes and recommends plausible solutions, the PPU can push for the necessary changes to rostering that would ensure a sustainable and productive pilot workforce. At the very least it would enable better cases to be made for maintaining current benefits and protections.
This is why the PPU is embarking on research into fatigue among its members, vital work that we believe will be of huge benefit to all pilots now and in the future.
A momentum is gathering worldwide within the industry to combat the causes of this debilitating condition, but it remains fragmented within associations, airlines and industry watchdogs. Many are simply ‘monitoring the effects’ of new guidelines on fatigue with no action planned. With our own research we can push the issue further up the agenda, collaborate with others and effect a change when and where it’s needed.