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Airline pilot wins major legal victory on fatigue

An airline Captain and member of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has accepted an apology from an airline after being sanctioned for refusing to fly due to fatigue, as well as assurances that the company remains committed to passenger safety.

Captain Mike Simkins was suspended by Thomas Cook Airlines for six months and threatened with dismissal after refusing to fly his Boeing 767 with over 200 passengers due to being fatigued. Captain Simkins took the case to an Employment Tribunal which unanimously found in his favour and against the airline.

Simkins took the difficult decision not to fly after three extremely early starts in a row, including one 18-hour day, and what would have been a 19-hour day to follow. Thomas Cook’s own fatigue monitoring software showed that because of the run of duties he had done, if he had flown his rostered flight he would have landed at the end of his duty with a predicted performance loss that would have been similar to being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying.

Dr Rob Hunter, BALPA’s Head of Flight Safety, said. “Not only is it reasonable to refuse to fly when fatigued, it is absolutely necessary. In fact, the law states that a pilot must not operate when fatigued, or likely to become fatigued. Captain Simkins should have been praised by Thomas Cook for reporting his fatigued state as required by law, not disciplined.

“Fatigue is a major threat to flight safety and a good, open safety culture is vital in ensuring that pilots and other staff members feel able to report fatigued and not put lives at stake.”

Brian Strutton, BALPA General Secretary, also commented. He said, “Captain Simkins should be commended for taking this matter up and seeing it through to its conclusion. I am also pleased that BALPA helped fund Captain Simkins’ legal battles, and provided substantial expert and staff support.

“Tackling fatigue remains BALPA’s number one flight safety priority and we will continue to work with airlines to do that where we can, and challenge them using any means necessary when we can’t.”

Please find the judgement here.

Any BALPA members with legal enquiries should contact legalenquiries@balpa.org

Any press enquiries please contact nancyjackson@balpa.org