Aviation watchdog says Virgin Australia is rostering pilots ‘closer to the limits’ of fatigue

Commercial pilot wearing uniform with epaulettes and hat half sitting idly, resting or stikeing.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority (Casa) officials have reportedly told the senate that they believe Virgin Australia is rostering its pilots “closer to the limits” of fatigue.

Virgin Australia and the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) remain at odds over proposed changes to how pilot’s workflows are managed. Under the current agreement, pilots get 12 days off after every 28-day roster period of which there are 13 every year. After the current agreement expires in June, Virgin is proposing that for six of the 13 roster periods days off would be cut to 11.

A TWU Survey found that of the 180 pilots asked 93 per cent intend to vote no and 88 per cent are unhappy about the proposed changes.

The TWU represents a small portion of Virgin’s pilots. The majority are represented by the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) who have give in principal support of the deal.

Casa’s executive manager of its regulatory oversight division Matthew Bouttell responded to the questions put forward by Labor senator Tony Sheldon on Wednesday evening.

He said that whilst there are strict maximum shift lengths, the management system used by larger airlines could lead to slightly longer days for pilots because of other strategies in place to limit fatigue.

Despite the strategies in place, Bouttell  admitted that Casa believed that Virgin’s roster system had put pilots close to fatigue limits.

“There’s been adjustments to their roster where they’re getting closer to the limits of that fatigue risk management system,” he is quoted in The Guardian as saying.

Bouttell said that just under 5 per cent of pilots at the airline had removed themselves from duty due to fatigue in the last 28-day roster period.

“We understand that 45 crew removed themselves from duty due to fatigue” – he said, adding that self-reporting system is a great example of Virgin’s successful management system.

Sheldon noted that there could be a risk if pilot’s feared any repercussion if they repeatedly turn down shifts.

Casa’s Steve Campbell said that “we’d be very concerned if pilots did have that sort of repercussions for walking off or reporting fatigue, that’s where we would be very concerned”.

He did go on to say, however, that there had been no evidence of this being an issue at Virgin.

A spokesperson from Virgin said:

Virgin Australia pilots have 156 rostered days off per year – the most generous days off in any aviation Enterprise Agreement (EA) in Australia. Qantas pilots are provided 130 days off and Jetstar pilots are provided 132 days off.

Under the proposed new EA, this is being reduced to 150 days off per year. This means that under the proposed agreement Virgin Australia pilots will still have 18-20 more days off per annum relative to their colleagues in other airlines.

This change improves Virgin Australia’s ability to better serve Australia during holiday periods, by reducing one day off in peak flying months but retaining the status quo in low demand periods. It also enables us to pay first year increases to remuneration of 15.6 per cent for Captains and 17.15 per cent for First Officers.

Our pilots operate under a robust fatigue management system approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). This system involves extensive consultation with pilots. Our pilots have the highest rest protections in the industry, with additional and market-leading fatigue-related protections proposed by the company as part of negotiations and included in the proposed EA.

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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