‘Rosters are brutal’: Ex-Emirates pilot tells RT how airline forces employees to work extra hours

An ex-Emirates pilot has told RT that the company forces its pilots to take heavy workloads by “bullying” them into accepting tough rosters, amid mounting reports from other pilots of Dubai-based airlines in the wake of the FlydubaiGate scandal.

Flydubai scandal after crash in Russia exposes pilot fatigue

The Emirates airlines’ management displays a callous disregard for the needs of its pilots, an ex-Emirates pilot told RT on condition of anonymity, stressing that none of the “many fatigue reports” he filed were taken seriously. Additionally, he was told that his promotion was delayed because he had “called sick and… fatigued too often.”

The pilot also stressed that first officers “are bullied into not calling sick or they risk losing” an opportunity to be promoted to captains.

“We expect you to fly your roster,” the company’s official told him once, bluntly adding that “if it is too difficult to you, resign.” The pilot says he was addressing the hazards of operating a plane safely while tired.

The ex-Emirates employee described the company’s rosters as “brutal,” as the pilots are “expected to switch from day to night… duties without enough rest in between,” adding that he “loses several nights of sleep every month,” is “constantly tired,” and has “no energy to do anything.”

Moreover, the pilots at Emirates are assigned extra flight hours every time they take a leave or a training course. The pilot compared this situation to that of an office worker being asked “to come to work a few week-ends and nights because he is going on leave.”

He also said that he was once assigned 80 flight hours in a month with seven days leave, while a normal month’s roster without leave would involve from 85 to 88 hours. On another occasion, the pilot says he was assigned to log 71 flight hours in just 16 days. 

The pilot also alleged that the company manipulates schedules, matching descriptions other Emirates pilots had disclosed to RT earlier. He said the work schedule of pilots at Emirates includes only the time between the so-called check-ins, and don’t take into account the time pilots spend preparing for the flight or fulfilling post-flight duties.

“We officially report an hour before the flight. In reality we are on the bus to the aircraft, briefing done, 70 minutes before the flight. We get 30 minutes post-flight duties. The reality is we are always still at the aircraft 30 minutes after on-chocks time, waiting for wheelchairs, crew bus, etc. We also prepare our flights on our time off, have to do on-line courses and keep up to date with our documentation.”

The ex-Emirates employee added that the company’s pilots are often called in to the office on their days off “to be given a talk” if they call in sick too often. He also stressed that the company’s management “do not think… there are any issues,” preferring to ignore the problems with the roster.

He compared his former employment with Emirates to an “abusive relationship,” saying that, although it provided him with money and status, it would eventually “end badly… with either death or sickness” if he had continued to work under such severe conditions.

Pilots began speaking out on condition of anonymity following RT’s report citing a whistleblower pilot from another UAE-owned company, Flydubai, who named pilot fatigue as one of the factors contributing to the airline’s plane crashing in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on March 19.

Flydubai flight FZ981 crashed in Rostov-on-Don leaving all 62 people on board dead. Following the incident, a Flydubai pilot claimed that the airline’s management forced pilots to work while exhausted, while leaking the flight log of flight FZ981’s co-captain, Alejandro Cruz Alava, which demonstrated that he had worked 11 days with only one off prior to the crash.

Following RT’s report on Flydubai, other former and current FlyDubai and Emirates pilots also contacted RT to provide accounts which allege that the negligent attitudes of the airlines towards pilot fatigue puts their passengers at risk.

Heavy workloads, manipulations of work schedules, and pilot intimidation for reporting sickness or fatigue were listed among the most common problems faced by these companies’ pilots.

RT encourages people who can shed light on the situation to write to flydubaigate@rttv.ru and tell us their stories.