Pilots Call on Wizz Air to Put Safety over Profits

 - June 10, 2022, 11:08 AM
A Wizz Air Airbus A320 takes off from Birmingham International Airport in the UK in 2014. (Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by Alec BHX/KKC)

Pilot unions on Friday reacted to what they characterized as unacceptable comments by Wizz Air CEO József Váradi about the number of sick days taken by cockpit crew with a call for airline CEOs and managers to always prioritize safety over profits. In a video briefing to employees, Váradi expressed concern about what he considers “damage to the [Wizz Air] brand” due to the number of sick days pilots have taken lately.

“We cannot run this business when every fifth person of a base reports sickness because the person is fatigued,” he said. “We are all fatigued but sometimes it is required to take the extra mile."

Váradi also complained about what he called “transactional damage” the Budapest-based airline incurred by having to pay passenger compensation claims for canceled flights. The comments came in the context of concerns over further summertime operational disruptions in the U.S. and Europe thanks largely to what airlines attribute to a pilot shortage.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has called on Váradi to clarify his comments.

“We know that airlines have just had the worst two financial years on record, but safety must come first no matter what,” said BALPA general secretary Martin Chalk. “An airline CEO's priority is to safely operate flights that make the airline money. If you forget your safety obligations, you can forget the rest…No one wants fatigued pilots at the controls—the possible consequences are too devastating.

"I would urge Mr. Váradi to swiftly clarify that Wizz Air would fully support any pilot who does the right thing by not flying if they feel fatigued, for the safety of their passengers, crew, and aircraft. I urge him to be as professional as his pilots in seeking to eradicate fatigue from the flight deck."

Separately, the European Cockpit Association (ECA) characterized Váradi’s comments as further evidence of a lax safety culture about which it complained last year, when a leaked recording captured Wizz Air’s then-flight operations chief apparently calling for the firing of pilots based on their refusal to work during days off, to fly longer hours, or to call in sick or fatigued.

After the ECA called on EASA to address its concerns over the recording of the manager telling his staff to draw up a redundancy list of the pilots in question, EASA director-general Patrick Ky reported in March to the European Parliament that the agency found no safety deficiencies at Wizz Air, notwithstanding numerous complaints from unions and staff.

“The latest comments by the CEO József Váradi…are in line with the same corporate culture deficiencies that Wizz demonstrated before and which ECA alerted about already in 2021,” said the ECA in a statement. “The airline still appears to put profit above safety. And the oversight authorities still seem blind to this attitude.”