Pilots ‘worked to death’: Flydubai whistleblower says fatigue-related crash predicted (RT EXCLUSIVE)
Speaking to RT in Doha, the former pilot said Flydubai’s top management was aware of the issue, but had done nothing to resolve it. “When I was still at the company, one of the last things I told management is that there would be an accident because of pilot fatigue,” he said.
The reason for fatigue is simple – pilots are being repeatedly overworked and not given enough time to sleep between flights.
The whistleblower provided documents showing that pilots, junior pilots in particular, are being assigned multiple flight shifts in a row. He argued that the crew often does not have enough time for sleep readjustment.
“Everybody at the company has these dangerous shifts from day flight to night flight, and then back to a day flight, and then back to a night flight, and it has definitely been a big issue for a long time.”
‘Fatigue a contributing factor to Flydubai’s Boeing crash in Rostov-on-Don’
The former captain added he was sure that sleep deprivation had contributed to the Flydubai flight FZ981 crash in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, which killed all 62 passengers and crew on board.
“The way that [Flydubai] … builds the schedules does not account for circadian rhythm … they do not allow pilots to get the right amount of rest, or the proper rest before a flight, and that is exactly what both of these pilots were, the situation that they were in, for sure,” the pilot said.
RT also obtained the flight log of the co-captain of flight FZ981, which revealed that Alejandro Cruz Alava had worked for 11 days with only one day off prior to the crash. The whistleblower commented on the documents, stating that Alava had been transferred from day flights to night flights without being given enough time to readjust his sleep pattern.
“[Alava] was working eleven days in a row with the exception of one day off, which was Tuesday March 15th,” the former pilot said. “There’s is no doubt he was fatigued and exhausted for this flight ... that definitely was a contributing factor, no matter how [Flydubai] may try to deny it.”
Moreover, the captain of the flight, Aristos Socratous, had reportedly filed paperwork containing his resignation because of the unbearable schedule, and only had a few weeks left to fly, according to unnamed colleagues of the deceased.
“The reason that the captain was resigning is because of the schedules, he just couldn’t do it anymore. He was too tired, going to work fatigued, and that is actually why he had resigned.”
An Air Safety Report (ASR) from September 2015 seen by RT shows that many pilots reported showing up for work feeling exhausted and overworked.
One of the submissions read: “I called in fatigued today for a 0125 local report. Prior to this I had 10 days duty with one day off. Those duties consisted of two 18-30 hour rest periods, a layover, 2 very early reports and 2 long double sector days. The combination of this has meant that I have had very little quality sleep throughout this roster period. I would also contribute the previous month’s roster, where I was roster for 92 hours, a contributing factor to fatigue that I am feeling.”
Another submission said: “Called fatigued … Was unable to get sufficient sleep before start of standby, albeit all efforts made … Issue is if I am called off standby for a long duty … that’s potentially well over 24 hours no sleep operating a flight.”
Flydubai referred to pilots who complained as ‘prima donnas’
The problem of fatigue has been well reported within the airline, and most of the pilots foresaw the possibility of a crash due to over-exhaustion. The former pilot cited an internal survey that asked “Do you think there’s going to be a crash?”
“Over 80% of the pilots that participated … said yes, there will be a crash at Flydubai. And it’s unbelievable, I mean they knew this was coming, they absolutely knew it and of course they will blame it on the pilots.”
Rather than trying to fix the problem, Flydubai reportedly created a culture that shamed pilots for feeling tired, calling them “prima donnas” if they complained.
“I know when I was still with Flydubai there were meetings every two weeks with the chief pilot … In most of those meetings [sleep deprivation] was always brought up and in fact in one of the meetings, the chief pilot referred to us as a bunch of prima donnas, like we complain too much, that’s exactly what he said. He said, ‘you guys are just a bunch of prima donnas.’”
Even worse, is that this type of hectic schedule is technically legal. “A lot of things legal that are just wrong, so [the airline] did have a legal schedule but it was not a healthy schedule,” the whistleblower said.
Moreover, the safety culture within the airline was poor, he said, citing an incident when Flydubai shipped chemical oxygen generators on an aircraft from their maintenance base to Dubai and then covered it up.
Reports of pilots falling asleep while flying
Falling asleep while flying has happened before at Flydubai, and sometimes even went unreported.
“I remember one report, when I still worked there, a pilot filed a safety report saying that him and another pilot fell asleep after taking off from one of the out stations and they were probably asleep for about eight minutes … I know that sounds crazy but it is extremely easy to fall asleep. It’s the same noise level and it’s quite boring, and the autopilot is on,” the former captain said. In addition, flying fatigue makes any pilot more vulnerable, he added.
The consequences for falling asleep at Flydubai are none at all, according to the former captain.
“There have been people report[ing] that they have completely fallen asleep at the controls at Flydubai and their company doesn’t do anything,” he said.
At other airlines, reports of sleeping during a flight usually lead to medical examinations, with the doctor particularly on the lookout for chronic fatigue and sleep apnea.
In giving his reasons for speaking out, the former pilot said people need to be aware of what is going on behind the scenes at Flydubai.
“It’s ridiculous that there’s been an aviation industry for so long and this stuff is still going on. And you hear about people being worked to death. I had some months at Flydubai where I really felt like I was being worked to death. And I just couldn’t do it. [People] buy an airplane ticket and they assume that they are safe on the airplane, but the way that an airline like Flydubai rosters their pilots, it’s not safe. It’s not safe at all,” he said.
RT encourages people who can shed light on the situation to write to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us their stories.