Tired Cargolux pilots on the edge
CARGOLUX is hovering dangerously close to compromising the health, wellbeing and safety of its pilots and its air operations, insiders have exclusively revealed to aircargoeye.com.
It is claimed that flight-deck staff regularly work in an extremely tired condition because the Luxembourg all-cargo carrier is thought to be short of at least 70 pilots, writes Thelma Etim.
Disruptive roster changes that encroach on pilots’ rest periods are not uncommon and the number of cases of aircrew staff sickness is rising, reveals one source.
“We are severely understaffed,” he warns. “It is not rare to have rosters with reduced rest periods.”
In February this year, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) introduced new European Union flight duty limitations and rest requirements (FTL) rules aimed at ensuring that EU pilots have sufficient rest between their assigned flight duty periods (FDPs).
Yet Cargolux pilots admit to being regularly assigned FDPs where their scheduled hours are close to the maximum allowable length under the new rules, research results from an in-house survey conducted by pilot union ALPL (Association Luxembourgeoise des Pilotes de Ligne) claims.
The results of the study alarmingly also suggest that the majority of the Luxembourg cargo airline’s pilots “do not feel properly informed” about the new rules – and do not feel their introduction has resulted in improvements in their flight duty rosters.
Roster changes make it ‘almost impossible’ for Cargolux pilots to plan rest
The internal survey also reveals most pilots do not have a thorough understanding of how to calculate the amount of local nights (a period of eight hours falling between 22:00 and 08:00 local time) required to be included in a rest period at home base (the location, assigned by the airline to the crew member, from where he/she normally starts and ends a duty period or a series of duty periods) after a rotation.
Another insider tells aircargoeye.com that he believes there is a possibility that flight safety is now close to being compromised. “It’s impossible to plan rest before flight, as there are so many [roster] changes, mostly after round-the-world trips,” he asserts.
“The rest rules from EASA are being interpreted loosely.”
The current environment has become so stressful that captain George Karambilas, president of ALPL Cargolux board, has sent an open letter to Richard Forson, the airline’s chief executive, calling for operational changes to alleviate the burdensome working conditions.
In it he points to the cargo airline’s estimated record profits earned in November, 2016 and the record block-hours flown by Cargolux pilots. Karambilas says the carrier’s successful month would not have been possible without the “flexibility” of the pilots and he criticises roster amendments during the peak season this year.
“We, as pilots, faced numerous roster changes planned to the absolute legal maximum,” he chides. “All [of] this resulted in roster disruptions, an increase in sick leave and, most notably, the number of fatigue events.”
He goes on to warn that the amount of hours the pilots have been flying are unsustainable in the long term. “As pilot representatives, we therefore believe that it is essential to hire enough pilots in the near future to avoid a shortfall of crews in the next year in order to be able to maintain an acceptable level of safety and sustainability for the pilots’ health and quality of life,” he adds.
Karambilas cites the disconcerting findings about pilot fatigue in Europe uncovered in another survey conducted jointly by the London School of Economics and Politics (LSE) and Eurocontrol, a European organisation for air navigation safety.
The all-cargo airline’s training department ‘in perpetual crisis’
Of the 7,239 pilots who responded to that study, 58 per cent confirmed they fly whilst tired; only 37 per cent have a high degree of trust in their airline’s management regarding safety; and 50 per cent believe there is poor communication in their company about safety.
Although the majority of pilots (64 per cent) who took part in the LSE report are based in Germany, France, Spain, UK, the Netherlands and Switzerland, it is understood a significant number of Luxembourg-based pilots completed it.
“42 per cent of the pilots from cargo airlines in Europe are of the opinion that their company does not have enough crews to operate safely, whilst 83 per cent have operated an aircraft despite being fatigued,” Karambilas notes.
At the core of the unhappiness is a worsening shortage of flight-deck crew, as Cargolux continues to struggle to hire pilots partly due to its revised terms and conditions.
The ongoing uncertainty has left the all-cargo airline’s training department in “perpetual crisis”, according to another insider. “With the new [terms and] conditions, only people with far less experience are joining – and they struggle throughout the training,” he says.
Remarkably, a job advertisement aimed at attracting first officers, published in the career section of the carrier’s corporate website, is more of a hindrance than a help. The ad, which details the airline’s working conditions, also contains the disclaimer: “The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to be legally binding for Cargolux in a particular case,” it reads.
“Cargolux assumes no responsibility, warranty or liability whatsoever for the above content.”
Ahead of publishing this article, aircargoeye.com sent it (on December 23) to Claude Zehren, executive vice-president and nominated person of flight operations at Cargolux, and also sent a message to Paul Helminger, chairman of the Cargolux board. Neither of them responded directly to the issues raised in the article. Instead, we received this corporate statement (below) from the head of the airline’s communications department:
“Cargolux notes the article in aircargoeye.com referring to working conditions of Cargolux pilots.
“Cargolux does not compromise on safety, which is our first priority and is not negotiable.
“All operations, including flight operations, are conducted in line within existing regulations and under the oversight of all the relevant regulatory authorities.”