24Hr emergency line +44 (0)20 8476 4099
Join Balpa

Exhausting European flight rules could lead to a pilot burnout crisis

Airlines are not doing enough to address fatiguing rosters and this will lead to many UK pilots suffering ‘burnout’ according to flight safety experts at the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA).

One year on from the introduction of EU-wide pilot duty hours regulations, Dr Rob Hunter, BALPA Head of Flight Safety and an aeromedical expert, has warned that fatigue remains a huge issue for the industry, and not enough is being done to tackle it, especially ‘burnout’.

Burnout can result from pilots having to fly fatiguing rosters and perform standby duties year in, year out, and can seriously impact mental and physical wellbeing in the long-term, says Dr Hunter.

Dr Hunter, said:

“Pilot fatigue is one of the biggest threats to flight safety; it acts powerfully to increase the risk of pilot error.

“BALPA’s expert analysis of roster patterns across the airlines shows that pilots are being asked to work rosters that will be fatiguing.

“We are getting feedback from our members that they’re frequently exhausted, we believe that over time this fatigue could lead to widespread burnout – where pilots’ long-term health and wellbeing is affected.

“Many pilots are choosing to go part-time as they simply cannot cope with the demands of full-time flying. Pilots with full-time rosters feel their time off is spent recovering from previous duties such that they can’t enjoy quality time for life outside work.”

The EU regulations imposed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) came into force in February 2016, despite opposition from BALPA and other flight safety groups, and have resulted in more fatiguing duties.

As predicted by BALPA, pilots now work more consecutive early starts which is associated with sleep deprivation and high levels of fatigue; pilots are being assigned duties which simply do not afford them a realistic opportunity to get enough sleep between flights.

The pilots’ association says that rather than seeing the flight time rules as a maximum, some airlines have used them as a target, leading to increasingly exhausted pilots.

Dr Hunter, continued:

“Fatiguing rosters are not just a problem in budget airlines but rather across the industry and need to be addressed. 

“The future health of UK pilots is at stake if changes are not made soon.

“BALPA is committed to tackling this problem and will continue to work with airlines to reduce rostering patterns and ensure pilots are given the support from their employer to operate safely.”