Covid-stretched airlines ignoring pilot fatigue; DGCA must act now

A recently-concluded survey disclosed that 67% of the pilots and 74% of the air traffic controllers feel that their employers had not taken measures to manage their fatigue

Covid-stretched airlines ignoring pilot fatigue; DGCA must act now
Representative image

A study conducted by the London School of Economics has highlighted a startling fact. Among the key findings of the study, 51% of the pilots surveyed reported that fatigue was not taken seriously by their airlines, and 28% of the pilots felt that they had an insufficient number of staff members to carry out their work safely. In another notable finding, less than 20% of the pilots surveyed felt that their airline companies care about their well-being. 

A recently-concluded survey by Safety Matters, an NGO based in India, disclosed that 67% of the pilots and 74% of the air traffic controllers feel that their employers had not taken measures to manage their fatigue. This is an unsafe situation indeed! Read the full report here.

One of the survey respondents commented, “Rostering in these times of Covid-19 has been given a free hand in order to cut costs. This has implied regular duties of more than 12 hours and up to 15 hours. This fatigue has to be taken into account. The DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) has to have a look again at the FDTL (Flight Duty Time Limitation), which has just been recently changed to cater for airline needs, completely ignoring the fatigue factor and a significant safety hazard." 

Fatigue is defined as a physiological state of reduced mental or physical performance capability resulting from sleep loss or extended wakefulness, disrupted circadian phase, or workload (mental and/or physical activity) that can impair a crew member’s alertness and ability to safely operate an aircraft.

Also read: Boeing 737 Max could have seen 15 more crashes, but why did DGCA ignore threat?

Conclusion: The essence of a safety culture is the relationship between the organisation represented by the management, and the workers, represented by the pilots. There is mistrust and lack of commitment towards the safety objectives. Therefore, the safety culture cannot progress beyond the calculative stage till the generative stage. The management needs to understand and the pilots need to develop a relationship which fosters trust. Generative safety culture is the aim to achieve.

Canada has issued new regulations governing pilot rest and duty times to counter the effect of fatigue and the risk associated with it.

Australia has been proactive in reaching out to the public for consulting them before finalising rules. A collaborative decision-making effort is always fruitful since all concerned stakeholders feel responsible in ensuring the success of the project.

Also read: How a Vedic solution can make all the difference in pilot-training

The Indian regulator, DGCA, needs to implement a systematic means for regulating fatigue by implementing the Fatigue Risk Management System as recommended by the United Nations aviation body, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Captain Amit Singh is a training and safety expert with over 30 years of experience in the commercial air transport industry. He has been associated with two startup low-cost carriers and has hands-on experience with their needs and challenges. He has been a part of the senior management at IndiGo and Air Asia India. Captain Singh has been speaking at international fora on training and safety. He is also the author of mindFly the Human Factors blog.

(This article first appeared in safetymatters.co.in)