Are Cargo Pilots “Tired” of Flying?

Lower salaries than their passenger colleagues, forced to carry lithium products on their main-decks, strike actions - all these are issues facing many of the world’s cargo aircraft pilots.
An even more worrying aspect is the apparent lack of proper rest times for pilots operating cargo aircraft.

Flying while fatigued is somewhat commonplace, cargo pilots claim
Flying while fatigued is somewhat commonplace, cargo pilots claim

European study shows many loopholes
The London School of Economics and Politics (LSE) recently published a European Safety Survey after having had questioned more than 7,200 pilots.
They came to the conclusion that fatigue in the cockpit is a worrying issue and that this is in their view more pronounced among cargo operators and Low Cost Carriers (LCC).
However, the study also notes that European aviation generally has a good safety culture compared to other areas throughout the world.
The pilots themselves are mostly confident that their flying skills suffice and are also sure that their colleagues in the cockpit are committed to safety.

Fatigue factor is high on the list
The polling by the LSE in their view shows some disturbing factors:

  • A large number of pilots on active duty are operating aircraft whilst being fatigued (68%)
  • Only 39% of those questioned believed that enough training was provided by their employer when new systems and procedures are put in place.
  • Almost half (45%) believe that they don’t get up-to-date feedback on safety issues and 50% are convinced that internal communication on safety is lacking.
  • Only 37% of those questioned showed that they have trust in the airline’s management regarding safety.

It seems that the survey highlights the fact that safety and fatigue issues are more predominant within cargo airlines and low cost passenger carriers.

Surveys are not necessarily 100% factual
Such surveys should always “be taken with a pinch of salt” and not necessarily be taken at face value for the industry as a whole.

It is a fact however that many cargo airline pilots have been complaining for some years now that working conditions (as well as salaries) are lagging behind those of their passenger aircraft colleagues.
We have seen incidents and some accidents with cargo aircraft which surely could be pinned down to overwork or fatigue factors in crucial conditions.
The LSE study claims that almost 60% of those highly qualified pilots questioned were convinced that no matter which carrier they worked for, that flying while fatigued was somewhat commonplace.

Worrisome figures
When looking closer at the survey results it becomes apparent that the percentage of tired pilots reaches 76% for Low Cost Carriers and a staggering 83% of those who sit up front at the controls on cargo airlines.

If all of these figures, or even 50% were really fact, then this shows an alarming situation in the European skies.
Many pilots believe that their immediate management is not recognizing or taking the issue of pilot fatigue seriously enough when scheduling crew rotations.
One should take into account that many of those pilots operating in Europe are now more or less self-employed or operate on so called zero hour contracts. Are they then being taken as seriously as those who have firm contracts when they bring up the issue of overwork, overtime and tiredness?

We know that many of our readers are also cargo pilots and their views would interest us also.

John Mc Donagh

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