Pilots at Qatar Airways have said to the Dutch broadcaster NOS that the Doha-based airline regularly pushes the boundaries when it builds crew rosters and that pilots are known to have fallen asleep at the controls because they are so tired.
The allegations have been made in the run-up to the FIFA Soccer World Cup which is being controversially hosted on Qatar Airways later this year. Qatar Airways is preparing for a massive influx of passengers during the tournament and is hoping to run a packed schedule.
Qatar Airways pilot
NOS managed to infiltrate private Facebook groups operated by Qatar Airways pilots where they monitored crew complaining about operating conditions at the airline and how their rosters left them feeling tired and potentially compromised safety.
- Pilots rarely, however, make formal complaints to the company because they are allegedly scared about repercussions which could include missing out on a promotion or even dismissal.
Qatari civil aviation authority
Qatar does have laws that are designed to mitigate against the risk of pilot fatigue which is known internationally as Flight Time Limitations. The Qatari civil aviation authority based its FTL rules on European laws, but there are some key differences that pilots fear substantially boost the risk of fatigue.
In the EU and Qatar, pilots can not fly for more than 100 hours in any 28 consecutive days but the way this time is operated differs greatly. In the EU, airlines start the clock from the moment the plane leaves its parking stand and only stop it once the aircraft parks on the stand at its destination.
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But in Qatar, the clock is stopped whenever pilots take a rest break during the flight. This change in calculating FTL means pilots at the airline can often work far more hours than their peers at European carriers.
- Air France estimates that pilots at Persian Gulf carriers like Qatar Airways could be operating as many as 1,200 hours of flight time per year, compared to an average of 850 hours in Germany and the UK and just 650 hours per year for Air France pilots.
“No one is wondering if, but only when a major incident will happen,” one pilot informed NOS anonymously. The pilot stated a major incident had been averted to date down to the technology packed into modern commercial aircraft. Another pilot informed the broadcaster what it felt like to fall asleep at the controls: “It’s not a deep sleep, but you keep falling off for ten seconds. It feels like you’re drunk.”
“You react slowly, are easily distracted, and lose your situational awareness.” The source told he once forgot that he was assigned to land the plane and had to be prompted by the other pilot to stay in control of the aircraft. He has handed in his statement to the airline because of these safety concerns.
Qatar Airways didn’t answer specific questions put to it by NOS, but the airline stated it had hired an independent company to research the effect of FTL and fatigue on pilots and would implement changes if it was found to be necessary. The airline also says it is hiring new pilots to keep up with the increase in demand.
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