A letter to Cathay Pacific Airways has highlighted an apparent safety threat to passengers as exhausted pilots struggle to cope with heavy workloads.
The letter, seen by the South China Sunday Morning Post, highlights concerns from senior pilots who have warned the airline’s management that fight safety is under threat due to increasing work demands.
According to the 1,900-world letter, which is signed by almost 100 pilots, the pilots said they are “tired and worn out” as a result of hitting the cap on flying hours on a regular basis.
Known as approved flight time limitation (AFTL) these guidelines are governed by Hong Kong’s aviation regulator to prevent serious fatigue from occurring.
The letter was written after a rostering practices agreement between the airline and its pilots was scrapped.
One pilot – who declined to be named – said aircrews are regularly working up to the maximum flight hours. He believes it is only a matter of time before a serious breach of safety occurs.
“The AFTL is an ultimate barrier,” the source told the Sunday Morning Post.
“The concern we have is, if you’re working right up to that barrier continuously, it’s not sensible. It’s like driving at the speed limit the entire time.
“You are generating cumulative fatigue the whole time and when you start your next duty, you haven’t recovered fully.”
Those who signed the letter said: “We feel strongly that these concerns need to be heard at the highest levels within the company and be placed on the record.”
They also cited a “recent fatigue-related incident” by a Cathay Pacific pilot.
It is reported that senior Cathay Pacific pilots wrote the letter a week after their employer cancelled an industrial agreement with their union which dictated flying hours and minimum cockpit manpower levels.
“We the undersigned are writing to you to express our utmost concern and alarm at the recent termination of our [agreement], specifically the potential change in crewing levels and how this may effect fatigue levels and, by extension flight safety,” the letter, addressed to director of flight operations Anna Thompson, said.
The senior pilots, who referred to themselves as “custodians of a safe flying culture” said they felt the need to voice their concerns.
“The way in which pilots are rostered for work needs to be fixed as a matter of urgency and needs to be fixed with the active participation of pilots, not by the unilateral actions of the Company” the final sentence of the letter said.
The rostering of pilots had intensified because of a long-term chronic shortage of pilots. It also stated the growing workload contributed to illness and long-term sickness among the workforce.
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Cathay Pacific confirmed having received the letter, which it said “expressed some concerns”. The carrier also responded by saying safety is the airlines top priority.
An airline spokeswoman said: “We are looking at these concerns and engaging directly with the pilots. Matters which relate to safety are always dealt with in a formal manner and they receive our utmost attention. The safety of passengers and crew is the No 1 priority.”