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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C

Irish pilots 'fear air crash' due to fatigue

The Irish Airline Pilots Association said that it was concerned that the European Aviation Safety Authority was not using certain scientific recommendations on its proposed EU Flight Time Limitations.

IRISH PILOTS FEAR there could be an airplane crash in Europe due to fatigue, an Oireachtas committee was told today.

Representatives from the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (IALPA) made the comments while speaking to the Joint committee on Transport and Communications today about the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA)’s proposed new EU Flight Time Limitations for pilots and cabin crew.

Captain Evan Cullen, president of IALPA, said the association is concerned about what he described as EASA’s “failure for some time now” to consider and include its own scientific research in the proposals on flight time limitations.

He said that their overall concern is that EASA “for reasons that have never been explained” to them, “continues to ignore the recommendations of its own scientific appointees” during the process.

According to IALPA, the Moebus Report compiled by 10 independent scientists on the EASA proposal on flight time limitations concluded that the current limitations are deficient, and made 33 recommendations. He said that EASA’s proposal in return complied with just two of these recommendations. This led to EASA asking three independent scientists to review their proposal, who came up with “with similar findings”, he said.

Safety fears

Capt Paul Cullen, director of safety and technical for IALPA, and an accident investigator, told the committee that in 1993 the first case of fatigue was diagnosed in a plane accident, and since then it has played a role in many other crashes.

Describing the Colgan Air crash in the US, where it was found that the pilots’ performance was impaired because of fatigue, Capt Cullen said:

We fear Europe might be closer to this scenario than we think.

He said that studies in the UK on doctors who deal with pilots showed that 75 per cent of the medical professionals believe one quarter of UK pilots are too tired to fly safety, and 60 per cent believe pilots could fall asleep during flight.

But what is most alarming about these figures is that UK pilots operate under more stringent rules than the rest of Europe, said Capt Cullen.

Capt Evan Cullen said IALPA is currently dealing with a pilot who was disciplined for refusing to fly as he was fatigued. He said that very often fatigue is not reported by pilots.

Areas of concern

IALPA has three main areas of concern, said Capt Paul Cullen:

  • Night duties
  • Standby duties
  • Disruptive schedules

Cullen said that IALPA would suggest that night duties should be limited to 10 hours as a basic rule with no extensions, and proposes specific research on night duties be undertaken. EASA wants to approve 11 hours.

Regarding standby, it proposes a 16-hour cap on standby – rather than 20 hours – and also says that pilots should get three hours of rest nights when working disruptive schedules.

IALPA also discussed the cost of training for young people, and the recent cases of training schools going bust, leaving students out of pocket.

Capt Evan Cullen said that there should be more regulation and oversight in this area, as well as in the area of informing a young person they won’t succeed in training to become a pilot.

The committee also heard that the flight time regulations process can be influenced and shaped by the Irish government and Irish authorities, and that it is up to member states to make their voice heard on the issue.

Read: Off-duty pilot helps to land Lufthansa plane at Dublin Airport>

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