Qatar Airways pilots say that the airline is under logging their work hours and ignoring complaints of fatigue – a safety violation that harms the health of staff and threatens the lives of passengers.
According to the details, the state-owned airline has come under fire amid accusations that it is overworking its pilots and ignoring complaints of fatigue. The pilots have raised the alarm in anonymous testimony, signalling safety breaches that could end up risking passenger lives. The testimony shows how worker abuse extends even to highly skilled industries in the Gulf country, as Qatar Airways tries to reduce crew downtime.
The revelations have come months before the country hosts its first FIFA World Cup with Qatar Airways as title sponsor. However, pilots worry about the risks fans could take, saying ultra-long flights are now operated by understaffed and exhausted crews.
While speaking to Thompson Reuters, a pilot, using the pseudonym ‘Erik,’ described the end of one particularly punishing 20-hour flight, saying, “I fell asleep during the descent with 400 passengers on board … You can’t do anything. Your body is just screaming for rest. You feel the pain inside of your chest, and you’re unable to keep your eyes open.”
Erik and six other flight crew members said the airline’s working hours were wearing them out and managers were refusing to give them enough rest. Many didn’t even file fatigue reports, fearing additional scrutiny from an airline that has laid off thousands of employees in the pandemic. Others said their reports were ignored or they didn’t take breaks to coincide with the shift they worked.
It is pertinent to mention here that fatigue is very common for commercial airline pilots, according to several studies, and companies often operate fatigue risk management (FRM) systems to ensure pilots don’t fly too many long-haul flights and get enough rest in between.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked Qatar Airways if it has noticed an increase in fatigue or safety concerns, how it calculates hours worked and rest, and whether it is taking steps to make employees more comfortable reporting fatigue.
A spokesperson said the airline is working with employees “to ensure that the rest times and rostering needs of the Flight Crew team are strictly balanced with the airline’s operational requirements, particularly given the unique challenges facing the global commercial aviation sector.”
The airline said it was working on “the most stringent fatigue risk management programme”.
In 2020, Qatar Airways announced it would lay off one in five workers as COVID-19 dramatically reduced global travel demand. It cut another 27% in 2021 to reach a workforce of 36,700. The airline reduced its list of destinations to 33 cities in 2020, but increased it again to more than 140 last year as destinations reopened.
The pilots said that in order to manage those new flights with smaller crews, the airline was underestimating working hours to maximize the flights operated while technically following the rules.
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