Pilots Worried About 'Quite Severe' Safety Impacts Of New Flight Rules

There are fears passengers may be at risk, if proposed changes to pilot safety and fatigue rules go ahead.

A major overhaul of pilot conditions has been flagged by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, in response to a recent survey by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The research found 17 percent of pilots reported having less than 12 hours of sleep in the 48 hours before their last flight.

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Among the suite of proposed new fatigue risk management regulations are changes including no daily flight time limits, no limits on late night flight duties, shifts up to 13 hours long, and no protection from late night starts followed by early morning flights.

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

“We see this as a retrograde step which has potentially quite severe safety implications for pilots obviously, but also the travelling public,” said Julian Smibert, from the Australian Federation for Air Pilots.

“We are extremely concerned that pilots will no longer get adequate breaks.”

CASA insists safety is at the heart of everything it does. When questioned by 10 News First, the safety authority issued a statement saying:

“CASA has looked carefully at international best practice in fatigue management and commissioned an independent review of proposed changes.”

Qantas is already testing the new fatigue rules, in a 12 month trial it says will help improve the way it operates.

“Given the nature of our long-haul network, we already have a mature fatigue management system in place,” a Qantas spokesperson said.

“The trial is essentially formalising a lot of what we are already doing alongside the existing regulations.”

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But, it’s a move that has frustrated some pilot groups, who say there should have been more extensive consultation before any changes were formalised.

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“No one knows fatigue like pilots – they live and work it every single day of their lives,” said Mark Sedgwick, president of the Australian and International Pilot’s Association.

“We’re best placed to inform the regulator on the actual effects of long-range flying.”

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The changes come in the wake of new-generation aircraft, which have the capacity for ultra-long-range flying.

“We are worried that it’s more about adding flexibility to airlines’ rosters, and less about pilot wellbeing,” Smibert said.

“While they talk about a pilot being able to sign on at 6 o’clock, they don’t seem to account that in order to sign on at 6 o’clock you’re up at 3 o’clock.”

Once the changes are confirmed, all Australian airlines must adopt the new fatigue requirements by March next year.