Qantas has found that several of its pilots who have not flown for many months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are making mistakes when operating the aircraft and need more time in routine procedures, which is particularly affecting crews of Wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner deployed on long-haul flights.
According to the details, an Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald had access to an internal airline memorandum mentioning the challenges faced by airlines around the world as the commercial aviation sector reactivates and the number of pilots without practice after so many months suspended or even fired.
In the memo, those responsible for Qantas fleet operations explain that after two years of the pandemic, “a situation was created in which expert pilots lost recency and experienced a subsequent reduction in cognitive ability.”
“Combined with reduced flying across the network, we recognise a flow on effect for flight crew’s focus and familiarity with the operation,” they said. “Routine items that used to be completed with a minimum of effort now occupy more time and divert attention away from flying the aircraft.”
A summary of the Qantas pilots’ reports noted “errors” in ground procedures, notably “starting the takeoff run with the brake applied” and “confusion between altitude and speed.”
In June 2021, The Sydney Morning Herald report notes, pilots of a Qantas Boeing 787 were unable to retract the plane’s landing gear shortly after taking off from Sydney Airport because two bolts had not been removed prior to departure.
A Qantas spokeswoman said airlines around the world were working through the complex process of returning to pre-COVID operations, including bringing back pilots who experienced extended periods on the ground.
“We recognised very early that we needed to think differently about pilot recency, currency and refamiliarisation programs, and so we designed an enhanced return-to-work program fit for the unprecedented challenge facing our industry,” she said.
“Safety is our number one priority and all of the data shows that our pilots are coming back with the skills and confidence to do their job safely.”