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This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Wednesday 12 August 2009

How Tired is your Pilot?

Fatigue affects us all. And aircrew are no different, so the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have set limits on the hours that pilots are allowed to work. These are contained in a document called CAP371: The Avoidance of Fatigue in Aircrews, and the limits it describes are generally echoed in the equivalent standards of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). Why should I mention the IAA?

Ah well. There is one very well known carrier that is based in Ireland, and which routinely works its pilots right up to the maximum hours. Yes, it’s our old friend Ryanair. A quick scan of CAP371 shows that the maximum duty hours in any 28 day period is 190 – the definition of “duty period” is from first reporting for a flight to “on chocks” at the end of the final sector – with the number of flying hours in a 28 day period set at an absolute maximum of 100. Divide that 190 duty hours by four to get a weekly average and you get 47.5, which is perilously close to the 48 hours of the European Working Time Directive (WTD).

Ryanair work up to both those maxima, whereas most other carriers use a lower one: generally they work to an advisory maximum of 80 flying hours in any 28 day period. There are, accompanying the hours rules, strict definitions of such terms as “days off” and “rest periods”. And this is not merely bureaucracy or window dressing: you don’t want the folks at the sharp end of your flight to be falling asleep on the job.

No doubt Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary – a man never known to be backward in coming forward – will rebut any suggestion that his firm is bending the rules, and I make no such suggestion. Nor do I suggest that Ryanair is doing anything illegal or improper. What I am saying is that this carrier is working its crews right up to the permitted maximum hours, whereas many of its competitors are not. And anyone wondering what the average flight deck person at Ryanair thinks about his or her treatment would do well to take a look at the front page of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) website.

What’s the current campaign over at BALPA? “Dignity and Respect for Ryanair Pilots”, which, freely translated, means that there is a move for union recognition within this carrier – being undertaken in the teeth of management hostility.

Not that I’d want to put you off getting that cheap fare, you understand.

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