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13 Apr, 2016 05:10

Emirates fatigue reports show UAE airlines pushing crews to limits (RT EXCLUSIVE)

RT has obtained new evidence of UAE pilots and crews being pushed to the brink of exhaustion. The shocking grievances by the Emirates cabin crew date from early April and echo anonymous accounts shared by Flydubai staff following deadly mid-March plane crash.

A number of Aviation Safety Reports of fatigue-related errors on the job by Emirates Airlines cabin crews, reviewed by RT, contain complaints of pilots experiencing fatigue, micro sleeps which coincided with procedural errors, “low alertness” and “indifference” while in the air.

“Third deep night flight in a row for the Capitan. Multiple radio call errors including missing check-in with Muscat [apparently referencing the capital of Oman]. Multiple procedural slips including failing to switch landing lights on with 10,000 ft checks. Should a non-normal event have occurred during the latter stages of the flight, the captain’s performance would have been impaired. Fortunately, the first officer was not on the same roster pattern and caught most slips,” one of the Emirates’ staffers wrote in the submitted “fatigue form”.

In other cases, almost in each of the similar forms, flight crews mentioned either “shared” or “combined” rest days together with previous sleep deprivations, a combination that eventually led to poor performance.

All of these “fatigue reports” Emirates staff submitted earlier April, mere weeks after the March 19 Flydubai tragedy in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don killed all 62 people on board.

Days after the deadly FZ981 crash, pilots working for UAE airlines began reaching out to RT on condition of anonymity after a former Flydubai captain blew the whistle on the airline overworking its flight crew “to death.” He shared flight log of Alejandro Cruz Alava, co-captain on the FZ981 that crashed in Russian south. Other documents he provided showed pilots and junior pilots in particular being assigned multiple flight shifts in a row.

Airlines in the UAE are “determined to do whatever it takes to keep flying these airplanes, even dangerously,” an UAE Aviation Executive told RT on condition of anonymity after crews began sharing their accounts. “If you try to guide them through in a conscientious way based on international aviation standards and regulations, you will become their enemy. They are engaged in a huge fight over open skies with the world airlines in Europe and North America,” he added.

RT has personally spoken to former Emirates cabin crew members, one of whom has said that he saw several times “pilots sleeping during critical periods of their flights.”

“As a senior I have seen many-many occasions where we would go into the cockpit and see pilots sleep not on their breaks, but just asleep during critical periods of their flights, like during turbulence, during landing – just seen them fast asleep,” a former flight attendant for the Emirates told RT, recalling fear. “This would be on long haul flights over 10 hours, on flights to many different destinations. We have seen that on regular occurrences.”

The former steward has also recalled that his fellow flight attendants would also fall “asleep on their seats.”

“Often in the incident reports that came through there were crew that were often opening doors while the planes were on the ground just due to the fatigue. Because they were so tired, they did not know what they were doing,” he said, adding that reports like that would appear every other month.

However, Emirates allegedly opted to disregard the complaints.

“This was something that Emirates would never ever admit,” the former steward added.

Another former crew member for Emirates told RT that the company would place the blame for fatigue and sickness with the employees.

“There is such a culture of intimidation in the company that they would make it sound like it’s your fault, that this is your responsibility,” he said. “For example, if I call in sick, if I tell them I’m fatigue[d], they will make it sound like ... you are the one doing this. ‘It has nothing to do with the company, don’t blame the company. We don’t want to hear it.’”

As the revelations RT received snowballed, more pilots started reaching out to complain about fatigue. Some of them compared Flydubai work conditions to “modern day slavery”.

Less than a week after the first revelations, pilots with the Emirates airline also reached out to the channel by phone or email to tell about what they know.

One former Emirates pilot said that the airline was saving money by hiring fewer pilots than necessary to cover the workload.

Another pilot still working at Emirates concurred, saying that the company was “not able to employ enough pilots to make up for the losses.”

In a recent comment, Emirates said it could not “substantiate” any of the anonymous allegations reported by RT, stressing that its Pilot Fatigue Risk Management system ”continuously examines flight crew roster patterns and reviews any feedback received from our pilots.”

However, following a load of fatigue complaints, Emirates partially revised their policies. According to an internal email RT reviewed, starting June 1, 2016 it extended a layover for a Chicago flight to “approximately 50 hours.”

“It is a good decision but why wait till June to do the change. It is safety driven but then they need to react immediately! With the change they admit that something was wrong with this layover,” a former pilot told RT.