Global insight

Fatigued, unhappy pilots: a bleak warning for Cargolux

Fatigued, unhappy pilots: a bleak warning for Cargolux

CARGOLUX has lost its world aviation reputation as one of the best employers of pilots, aircargoeye.com exclusively reveals.

The Luxembourg all-cargo carrier’s imminent recruitment road show in Brussels and Amsterdam airports – targeting type-rated and non-type-rated first officers to fly B747-8s and -400s – is symptomatic of how desperate the company has become, warns Dirk Becker, executive secretary of the Association Luxembourgeoise des Pilotes de Ligne (ALPL).

“Cargolux has been in business for 47 years. When I talk to members of our association flying for Cargolux, some who joined the airline 10 or even 20 years ago, they report that it has never been a problem for Cargolux to attract pilots who are highly qualified, well-trained, have decent experience for the demanding job of flying B747s long-haul operations to all continents,” he states.

“But all this has changed with the new employment terms and conditions for new joiners, which was introduced at the end of 2015, with the present collective work agreement.”

As with all professions, international pilots routinely compare and contrast the positives and negatives they experience in working for different companies. They share their good and bad experiences whilst on long lay-overs flying around the world. The current commonly-held view is that getting a cockpit job at the Luxembourg airline appears to have lost its sheen, writes Thelma Etim.

“In the past, other pilots would always observe: ‘Ah, you work for Cargolux. That is a company I would like to fly for. Good working conditions, interesting network, you are treated fairly well, you have good career opportunities and compensation; including the number of days you get off’, etc.”

Now Becker notes: “This is all gone. It’s no longer attractive to work for Cargolux anymore.”

“…if the company cannot operate all the flights effectively and safely because it does not have the adequate quantity of pilots, this may not only pose a possible safety risk…”

The carrier introduced a new aircraft to its B747F fleet a few weeks ago. “But recruitment has lagged behind. We’ve observed that not a single pilot has been hired to fly it,” Becker claims.

Cargolux’s business figures are quite good this year, he notes. “2017 has been a very positive [business] year. But if the company cannot operate all the flights effectively and safely because it does not have the adequate quantity of pilots, this may not only pose a possible safety risk due to the fatigue of overworked crews, it may also negatively affect the airline’ ability to satisfy customer demands, which in turn could lead to a loss of market share,” Becker warns.

The exhausting hours of duty, with pilots frequently flying 16/17 hours or even up to the maximum legal limit of 18 –  is one of the primary reasons why Cargolux is struggling to recruit new staff.

Frequent, last-minute changes to flight crew rosters, which can sometimes result in delays of up to several days, means returning late to home base which in turn interferes with a pilot’s private life.

“Despite all of the demands from pilots about the quality of work/life balance, stability is just not there,” Becker points out. “Pilots’ complaints about being fatigued have increased and this is becoming alarming,” he claims. “It is not worth even printing the roster – because it will [often] change even before the ink is dry.”

The situation has become so dire there have been numerous examples where extremely tired pilots have decided not to complete a multi-sector flight duty, by taking an unexpected rest at an intermediate airport, he reveals – causing delays in the delivery of shipments across the network, he reveals.

The dearth of experienced pilots is a global problem

“It is something that, if at all, rarely happened in the past at Cargolux,” says Becker. Some flight-deck staff are so tired, they report themselves unfit for duty, he adds. “With flight duties planned to the legal limits, if anything were to go wrong, it could lead to chaos, my Cargolux colleagues say.”

Nevertheless, the impasse between the flight-deck staff and the management team running the cargo airline continues, says a source. Communication between the two parties remains fractured.

The recruitment roadshow, scheduled for November 8 and 9, is in addition to a long-standing employment advertisement for first officers placed on the airline’s website. Response to the ad thus far seems not to have been satisfactory.

For most of this year, the airline has also advertised on its website for captains and first officers for Henan Cargo Airlines, its new Chinese joint-venture airline, the launch of which has been postponed multiple times over.

The Luxembourg carrier’s pilot woes are part of a broad problem affecting the global aviation industry and have been documented in aircargoeye.com’s news feature: Scramble for pilots fuels airline cockpit wars.

For example, some 200 pilots working for Cathay Pacific, which recently announced draconian cost-cutting measures, are considering an exodus to Southern China Airlines and Hainan Airlines, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

Meanwhile, a post on the Pilots Professional Rumour Network (PPRuNe) lists some of the airlines recruiting flight-deck staff. Among them, Air Canada allegedly requires 450 for 2018; Ryanair 700 between 2018-19; Easyjet 500 for 2018; Qantas and VietJet are currently recruiting 200 and 400 pilots, respectively, British Airways requires 400 for 2018-19 (upper age limit 49), Virgin Atlantic 150, Virgin Australia 80, and Dragonair 200 in 2018.

Such is the desperate need for senior pilots in the USA, that retired military flight crew are to be recalled by the US Air Force, reports say. Widely publicised figures reveal the Air Force had 1,555 fewer pilots at the end of 2016’s fiscal year. To counter experienced aviators being tempted by commercial airlines’ salaries, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson recently announced the introduction of a number of new pay incentives.

Meanwhile, major American airlines are also currently conducting big recruitment drives for additional pilots, with freight carriers UPS and Fedex believed to be among them.

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