Pilots write to airline claiming fatigue levels are risking safety

Cathay Pacific has strongly denied claims that pilot fatigue is risking safety

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The Independent Online

Cathay Pacific’s pilots have written to the airline warning that they believe flight safety is under threat as pilots are over-worked and exhausted.

The airline strongly denies the claims and says safety is its “number one priority”.

In a frank letter to the Hong Kong-based carrier, published in full by the South China Morning Post, the pilots refer to what they claim is the “elephant in the room, fatigue” and ask “is safety still our priority?”.

In response, the airline, established in 1946, has said that it has measures in place to manage issues such as fatigue. 

The carrier has never had an accident in which a plane has been written off as beyond repair. 

The letter, sent to Cathay Pacific’s director of flight operations last month claims “long-term fatigue levels” are being endured by its pilots.

It claims pilots routinely work overtime and reach their maximum legal annual hours limit, at which point they cannot be used and have to be removed from rosters.

The letter also claims there are increased sickness rates, full annual leave is not being granted to all crew, that experience levels at the airline have dropped, “flights are constantly being cancelled due to lack of crews”, and that the airline is proposing to reduce crew levels by 30 per cent for “efficiency opportunities”.

“Currently, we have a tired and worn-out aircrew body,” the letter said.

“This is manifesting itself in correspondingly increased sickness rates and, regrettably, a recent fatigue-related incident.”

It added: “We are… acutely aware that increasing fatigue levels coupled with decreasing experience levels could dangerously affect safety within the airline if actions are not taken now to change course.”

The Sunday Morning Post received a letter from a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman, responding to the concerns raised by the pilots.

She confirmed that the airline had “received a letter from a number of our check and training captains in which they expressed some concerns” and that it was looking into the concerns and engaging with its pilots directly.

She said matters to do with safety received the company’s “utmost attention” and that “safety of passengers and crew is the number one priority of Cathay Pacific".

“We do have measures in place to manage any issues identified, such as fatigue,” the spokeswoman said.

“These include a fatigue risk management system which works to minimise risk by using preventative measures. 

“Pilots’ rosters are designed and monitored to ensure fatigue is minimised.”

The spokeswoman said the airline complied with the requirements of the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department, including those governing crew experience levels, hours, and the number of crew required to operate a flight.

The Independent has contacted Cathay Pacific for further comment.