Lax airline safety regimes which allow fatigued pilots to fly aircraft are putting passengers at risk, according to a report by the London School of Economics (LSE) and Eurocontrol.
The report concludes pilots are often tired at work and feel airlines do not take fatigue seriously, and it suggests companies treat whistleblowers as troublemakers.
The conclusions, based on a survey of more than 7,200 pilots across Europe, or one in seven of the workforce, raised concerns that pilots are being overworked, particularly by budget airlines which often schedule the same team on multiple flights in the same day.
Half of pilots said fatigue was “not taken seriously” by their airline and 58% said pilot colleagues were “often tired at work”.
More than a quarter said there was insufficient “staff to do our work safely”, and 14% suggested they worked even when feeling unwell.
The research found 21% of pilots felt they were not given enough chance to practise their manual flying skills and 22% said maintenance teams were unable to “promptly repair” technical problems with aircraft.
Problems are believed to have been fuelled by an over-reliance on inexperienced pilots working zero-hour contracts and those on “pay-to-fly” deals.
According to the LSE study, reported in The Times, 11% of pilots in Europe are not on permanent contracts and many are aged under 30.
The survey found Britain had some of the biggest reported problems, with pilots rating their airline’s approach to fatigue lower than in any other country apart from Croatia and Luxembourg.
Seventeen per cent said their airline treated pilots who raised safety concerns as “troublemakers”.
Tom Reader, associate professor in organisational and social psychology at LSE, said: “Whilst pilot perceptions of safety culture are encouragingly positive, these results will raise concerns that passenger safety could be put at risk by the increasing pressures of understaffing and fatigue.”
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) has said previously that pilots are being forced to work shifts of more than 20 hours without breaks.
It attacked the introduction of rules from the European Aviation Safety Agency that allowed airlines to roster pilots on more early shifts and increased the maximum number of hours they could work in a week.
Balpa head of flight safety Rob Hunter said: “Fatigue has been a growing issue among pilots and has intensified since the introduction of EASA flight time limitations this year. Balpa has been challenging all airlines and carriers to improve fatigue management.”
But Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade told The Times: “Safety is the number one priority for everyone in aviation.
“The long-term data shows that air travel is getting safer and a strict adherence to global standards across the industry demonstrates a commitment to ensuring this trend continues.”
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