Airplane travel: Fatigue is a safety risk, says US pilot

Pilots at Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines say pilot burnout is on the rise and they’re pressing airlines to deal with fatigue and mistakes that lead to safety risks.

“Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number one safety threat,” the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, or SWAPA, told airline executives in a letter. in this week.

Pilots say causes include chaos in flight cancellations due to inclement weather and soaring demand for air travel, with airlines still recovering from the test of courage.

Passenger numbers accounted for about 90% of 2019 levels this month, but major U.S. passenger airlines are short of about 3,000 employees for that period, according to Transportation Security Administration data. data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Thousands of pilots have retired – by choice or aged at 65 – during the pandemic, and research presented by the Regional Aviation Association says 2,000 pilots have reached mandatory retirement age this year. The mandatory retirement figure is expected to increase over the next 6 years.

Southwest executives identified human resources as one of their top priorities this year, and set a goal of hiring 8,000 new employees. Forty percent of that will be the fleet.

SWAPA President Casey Murray says more hiring won’t solve fatigue problems.

“A lot of our delays and problems we had to do more with with scheduling and connecting the pilots to the aircraft,” Murray told CNN in an interview. “Inefficient scheduling processes are taking a toll as we work in a highly dynamic environment.”

The union wrote in the letter to executives that the number of pilots reporting being unable to work because of fatigue spiked last fall, including a 600% spike in October and reached ” Another amazing increase was 330%” last month. “April has been setting fatigue records,” SWAPA wrote.

Federal rules place basic limits on how many hours pilots can work and require rest periods. Limits for major US airlines include 30 hours of flight per week and a minimum of 9 hours of rest between shifts.

But pilots say the stresses of the job and changes due to hurricanes could put them at a loss before reaching those benchmarks.

Southwest Airlines acknowledged an increase in fatigue reports filed last month – 35 reports for every 10,000 hours worked, compared with 10 reports for the same figures in March 2019. Spokesperson Brandy King said know the numbers that indicate an efficient system.

Mr King wrote in a statement to CNN: “The increase is expected to increase, as it regularly experiences high levels of fatigue during unusual operations and in March the industry had to faced weather and airspace delays that resulted in network disruptions,” King wrote in a statement to CNN. “The March increase in Pilot Fatigue calls was the result of the system working as designed, allowing the Crew to determine if they were too tired to fly.”

Delta Air Lines pilots are holding a series of protests at airports this month, drawing attention to concerns about their fatigue.

“Our pilots are tired and tired,” Evan Baach, a captain at Delta and an official with the Airline Pilots Association, or ALPA, told CNN affiliate KSL at an airport rally. Salt Lake City. He said pilots are working “longer days with shorter nights at home.”

Jason Ambrosi, Delta team president at ALPA, says that pilots are responsible as “the last line of defense” in aviation safety but “too often we are pushed to our limits when Delta tries to increase get back into flying operations and generate revenue.”

ALPA wrote in a notice to Delta members last month that the pandemic has presented “several opportunities for Delta to re-establish its broken pilot payroll issue.” According to the union, as air travel resumes today, the unresolved issues become clearer: The number of pilots willing to participate and deal with issues caused by weather, maintenance or co-workers get sick significantly less.

“Delta Flight Operations continues to conduct operations on the red line,” the union’s note read. “So if you feel like you’re working more and seeing less control over your schedule – you’re right; you’re right.”

Delta told CNN that its schedule follows federal rules regarding pilot work and rest times.

“We continuously evaluate our staffing models and plan ahead for rapid recovery when unforeseen circumstances arise, and the resilience of Delta people is second to none. that aspect,” said spokesman Morgan Durrant. “All of our employees, including pilots, are working hard to restore the airline and deliver to customers as we emerge out of the pandemic. We are grateful and proud of our efforts. their power.”

Last year, pilots from all airlines submitted about 60 reports of errors or other fatigue-related incidents to the federal Aviation Safety Reporting System. The reports were posted to a federal website anonymously, without identifying names or airlines.

Some pilots write that they feel fatigued after dealing with training responsibilities. Others said airline managers had asked them to handle too many side flights because of short staffing.

“We both yawned and rubbed our eyes during the more than six-hour flight… I couldn’t keep up,” one captain wrote in November, despite having had “proper sleep, average the night before.”

“But ‘we’ click – right?” the pilot continued. “Our threats were three times the pre-Covid environment. We were faced with delays, shortages, scheduling and staffing issues that were NOT taken into account in building the schedule. Why? Because we tested to make it work.”

– CNN’s Pete Muntean and Raja Razek contributed to this report

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