Fatigue has long been a concerning issue for pilots and in the most recent survey of BALPA members it was felt to be the greatest single threat to flight safety.
The advent of the more permissive EASA FTL regulations has resulted in pilots working longer and harder leading to potentially dangerous levels of fatigue. The possible consequences of pilot fatigue were illustrated in the serious incident at San Francisco in July 2017 during which the flight crew of an Airbus A320 narrowly averted a collision with several aircraft on the ground having incorrectly lined up with the taxiway whilst on the approach. The captain had been awake for more than 19 hours but was still not in breach of the FTL provisions that applied in the state of operator.
It is critical that airlines do not use the prescriptive FTL limits as targets to be achieved in the rostering of their flight crew. Just because a roster complies with the prescriptive FTL rules within the regulation, it does not mean the roster is compliant, or cannot lead to a pilot experiencing an unsafe level of fatigue, and the attitude that FTL rules represent the threshold for safety is dangerous and could compromise flight safety.
No one wants fatigued pilots on the flight deck and BALPA is working with the CAA and airlines to foster an industry-wide culture that better understands the factors that contribute to fatigue and more effectively mitigates their risk.
BALPA understands the vital importance of accurate, consistent, and meaningful reporting of fatigue, and, equally, the appropriate treatment of these reports by airlines in the context of a learning and just culture. This has increased in importance with the evolution of more permissive FTL regulations that place greater onus on Fatigue Risk Management (Systems), and their reliance on high quality data, to control fatigue risk. We continue to encourage members to report fatigue and work with the CAA and airlines to remove any barriers to reporting and to ensure the systems to do so are working effectively.
BALPA is also encouraging members to take a more active role in briefing their fatigue state with their colleagues at appropriate stages of flight, the same as they would brief an approach, for example. We support the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS) as a method for assessing fatigue and have issued every member with an info card that concisely explains the KSS scale.
Given the importance of effective sleep and rest as a fatigue mitigation, BALPA feels more training and guidance should be provided to pilots on strategies to help optimise their sleep/rest opportunities. BALPA is investigating with sleep science specialists how this could be achieved.