European Pilots Blame Disruptions on 'Deep Systemic Issues'

 - July 12, 2022, 2:12 PM

The European Cockpit Association (ECA) does not expect that the disruptions that have marked air travel across the continent this summer will resolve quickly and has called on the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to publish a Safety Information Bulletin (SIB) with guidance on how airlines and airports can safely manage the summer chaos. “We have asked EASA to urgently issue a summer disruption safety bulletin, in a similar way they did during the pandemic,” ECA secretary general Philip von Schöppenthau told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday. “They used SIBs outlining specific risks of operating in the Covid-19 environment and targeted guidance to all stakeholders. We think EASA should have [issued a specific summer disruption SIB] already,” he stressed.

The Brussels-based representative body of European pilots at the EU level has published a dedicated “Summer Disruption Checklist” to help pilots cope with fatigue and the multiple pressures of operating this summer. “We live and breathe this summer chaos every day. It is here and it will not be solved in one, two, or three months,” asserted Capt. Tanja Harter, ECA board director of technical affairs. Pilots have become accustomed to dealing with the causes of regular disruptions, such as weather, limited capacity, or occasional equipment failure, but pilots now face a variety of new issues during their daily operations ranging from lack of aircraft cleaning to lack of fuel trucks or stairs. “A lot of stuff is put on our laps,” she noted. Trying to cope with the high passenger numbers, airports and handlers are using temporary workers and poorly or wrongly trained staff, for instance, to load the aircraft. “This requires additional checks and tasks by the flight crew,” added Harter. “Our commanders do sign off on the final aircraft acceptance before every flight.” 

Airlines, airports, and slot coordinators have reduced the number of flights in response to the mounting delays, cancellations, long queues at security checkpoints, and mountains of unprocessed baggage. Heathrow airport, for example, on Tuesday told airlines to stop selling summer tickets as it imposed a new limit of 100,000 daily passengers until September 11, while ultra-low-cost carrier Wizz Air on Monday said it expected to cut aircraft utilization another 5 percent for the summer to reduce the effect of “ongoing external disruptions.”

According to von Schöppenthau, blaming airport staffing problems mask “what is happening on the airline side. There is a problem with the rostering of pilots and cabin crew.” At some airlines, a “disconnection” exists between the sales and the operational side of the business, added Harter.

Paul Reuter, ECA industrial affairs director, blames the current crisis and widespread disruptions on a “deep systemic issue.” The whole system is “overstretched on all levels,” he said. “As a first step, we want EASA to issue a summer disruption safety bulletin. But we are also calling on EASA and the national oversight authorities to be aware of where the issues are and to step up efforts to make sure operators do not get creative with the interpretation of the regulations.” Some airlines, he contended, do pressure pilots to use their commanders’ discretion to extend their flight duty time limits. “What we see from EASA and the national oversight authorities is that they have no opinion on it,” noted Reuter. “For us, it is important that they and the European Commission take their responsibility.”