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The high life versus home life

by Dr Rob Hunter BALPA, Head of Flight Safety

For many pilots flying is more than just a job. It’s a way of life, something we train hard for and wouldn’t give up for the world. But even the most dedicated pilots have lives outside work and getting the balance between work and home life right is a bit of a juggling act. So, is it possible to have it all? The high-flying life and the home life?

All this week BALPA will be featuring blogs from real life pilots as they tell us how they manage their work life balance. In this blog, I will outline some ways in which BALPA is helping pilots get the equilibrium right.

“…a key concern has been pilot fatigue.”

It's difficult to convey to the public the amount of work a pilot does and how fatiguing and difficult it can be. Some challenges that pilots face simply don’t arise in most other employment. Crossing time zones, night stopping away from home, shift work, changes to rosters and flying constantly with people you’ve never met before are just some of the things that affect work life balance.

Ever since pilots first came together to create BALPA a key concern has been pilot fatigue and it is still a problem that’s affecting pilots today. While foreign travel may seem glamorous, sleeping in a hotel and living out of a bag isn't the most fun. And when you add in the effect of increasingly demanding rosters it’s clear that tiredness is affecting pilots at work and at home. 

BALPA is hearing increasingly of cases of long term sickness related to fatigue and 'burnout' as well as an increased demand for part time work. These are indicators that current work levels cannot be sustained.
That’s where BALPA’s ‘Focus on Fatigue’ campaign comes in. We are committed to ensuring the issue is on the agenda of pilots, the public, airlines, regulators and the Government.

At the same time BALPA is running projects to identify rosters that put the most pressure on pilots and is challenging airlines to make changes where needed. We have been successful in this project and have seen changes made to roster patterns and routes at several airlines.

We are also looking at how modern technology can be harnessed to make fatigue reporting as simple as possible and enable accurate data to be collected.

"…BALPA is determined to ensure that it is not all sacrifice…"

Flying people from A to B means pilots will inevitably spend a lot of time away from home. It’s “par for the course” for pilots to miss family events, celebrations and appointments. Families must be flexible and partners supportive. It’s not unusual for a pilot’s partner to be forced to pick up the pieces in an emergency at home if their other half is down route.

But BALPA is determined to ensure that it is not all sacrifice. BALPA is in constant negotiations with airlines and regulators to push towards best practice and fight for the best pay and employment benefits for pilots. 

And if work life balance does become difficult to manage, BALPA is here for you too. We’re working with airlines to implement peer support networks to help identify those who could be facing burnout and offer the support they need to manage the situation and keep flying.

Making sure pilots have a good work life is not only good for the pilot, it is also vital for flight safety and good for business. Simply put, employees with a good sense of balance in their lives perform better at their jobs and that’s good for everyone.