“Flying tired: airline pilots on tough rosters battle fatigue”

I’ve got a kind request to feature this article from the Australian Newspaper “The Sydney Morning Herald”.
I have to say I made a decision to stop blogging almost a year ago, but somehow I keep getting requests to publish EK employees’ stories.

Since I understand that this blog is maybe the only outlet of many to write about injustices and troubles they’ve been through, I never had a heart not to publish a personal experience of someone who has obviously been through a lot of humiliation and stress just because some EK manager wants to show their power or is incompetent and inhumane or directly violates human and labor rights.
So here it is. Another request fulfilled. Hope it will bring some good to all the responsible and good EK employees out there.

Seems that we care about that company and its passengers more than its managers do.


In some situations, pilots are allowed to nap on the flight deck to alleviate fatigue. Photo: Jim Rice

For passengers, the 5am flight from Brisbane to Sydney during daylight saving time in NSW is hardly a pleasant experience. But spare a thought for the two pilots who have probably woken up about 2:30am to make the 4am sign-on and may then have to make four flights over an 11 to 12-hour period.

“Back-to-back of these is very, very fatiguing,” says a Qantas 737 pilot.

Or consider the late evening flight from Sydney to Perth.

The passengers arrive in Perth after midnight local time, but at Jetstar and Tigerair Australia, the two pilots on board will head straight back to Sydney, arriving just in time to battle peak-hour traffic before they can make it home to rest.

“It is pretty hard to make the case that you are on your A-game at the top of descent [into Sydney] on the return leg,” a Jetstar A320 pilot says.

“There are duties you do at Jetstar that wouldn’t be entertained at Qantas. A low-cost carrier is more intense in terms of the rostering requirements.”

Many industries fatigued

Pilots are hardly the only workers in Australia with exhausting shifts. Truck drivers, miners, doctors, nurses and others also work long shifts with hours that can   disrupt the biological clock.

“By and large, pilots are at the low end of the fatigue scale in terms of other industries,” says Professor Drew Dawson, a sleep and fatigue specialist at CQUniversity Australia. “At the other end, they are at the high end of the consequence scale.”

The crash of a Flydubai 737 at Rostov-on-Don, Russia, last month that killed all 62 passengers and crew on board has reignited discussion of fatigue management within aviation circles at a time when Australia is close to introducing new fatigue regulations.

The accident is still being investigated and whether fatigue was definitely a factor is unknown. But the crash occurred in tough circumstances at 3:50am local time (4:50am Dubai time), after two hours of circling due to bad weather and two aborted landing attempts. Scientific studies show mental alertness can be at its poorest during the “window of circadian low” between 2am and 5am.

Emirates’ tiring schedule

The airline, like fellow Dubai-based carrier Emirates, is known among pilots for having rosters that are within the United Arab Emirates legal limits but nonetheless very tiring.

In the UAE, the maximum flying time is 100 hours per 28 days versus 100 hours per 30 days in Australia. On an annual basis, UAE pilots can fly 1000 hours a year versus 900 a year here.

“The point about regulation is you can have flight-duty time limitations in which you can produce two compliant rosters but one can be extremely friendly and low fatigue risk and one can be extremely high fatigue risk,” says CQUniversity associate professor and sleep expert Matthew Thomas.

He says as a rough guide, research shows if a pilot has less than five hours sleep in the 24 hours before flying, twice as many errors may occur.

Pilot fatigue has been cited as a factor in at least 12 accidents and 64 near misses globally over the past 10 years, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. But more than half of all accidents are caused by pilot errors and it is possible fatigue is understated as a factor in official reporting.

‘We are not machines’

The ATSB report on one of Australia’s worst-ever accidents, the Emirates flight 407 runway overrun and tail strike at Melbourne Airport in 2009, said fatigue was unlikely to have been a factor, but the flight’s captain told media he was sleep-deprived.

The error that caused the EK407 incident was the input of the aircraft’s weight as 100 tonnes lighter than it actually was.

A former Emirates 777 captain said he had once made a similar mistake when flying for the Dubai-based carrier as a result of fatigue, but luckily it had been caught by another pilot before take-off.

“Everything is legal of course,” he said of the Emirates rosters. “But we are not machines.”

Pilots at many airlines are allowed what is called “controlled rest on the flight deck”, which means they can put their head back and nap in their chair for short periods, typically under 40 minutes, as long as the other pilot is retaining a close watch over the flight during the cruise period.

Both asleep

However, the former Emirates captain said pilots were often so tired that one would allow the other to sleep for two to three hours at a time. On occasion, the pilot supposed to be watching the controls would accidentally fall asleep for a few minutes, meaning if a sudden incident occurred mid-air, the reaction times of both would be slowed.

“I have flown with guys that have woken up mid-flight and the other pilot has been asleep mid-flight between Dubai and London,” says a Qantas A380 pilot. “This should not happen as the cabin crew are supposed to call up every 30 minutes but some crews may call them and say do not call as one of the pilots is having a controlled rest.”

For airlines, adding more pilots on sectors or changing rosters could come at a financial cost. The carriers naturally want to maximise their profitability by having their highly paid pilots fly as many hours as possible within the rules. But they are also interested in safety, as serious incidents and crashes cause brand damage and lawsuits they want to avoid.

Another potential problem is that pilot fatigue is probably underreported by the pilots themselves, albeit more so at some carriers than others depending on the company culture.  Reporting fatigue requires the pilot to fill out a form with an explanation and takes longer than ringing in sick.

Open culture call

“What we want is an open reporting culture,” says Australian Federation of Air Pilots executive director Simon Lutton. “They shouldn’t be doing a flight if they are not in a fit state to do it.”

Pilots at major Australian carriers said there was no punishment for reporting fatigue and in some cases it led the airline to take steps to fix the situation, if it was due to a factor such as a noisy lay-over hotel.

Airlines have also changed some rosters over time as a result of pilots reporting fatigue. When Virgin changed the timing of its Sydney-Los Angeles flight by nearly four hours, it first assessed potential fatigue hazards for pilots. Qantas is reviewing the possibility of rostering on a third pilot on the QF2 flight from London to Dubai as a result of feedback.

“My experience with Qantas has been very positive,” a 737 pilot said. “If you need time off and you ask for it, then the company has always been able to arrange that.”

The situation differs in other parts of the world, where there are no unions or Western-style seniority system.

“There are all sorts of ways you can put pressure on pilots,” a Virgin 737 pilot says of situation in the Middle East. “If you don’t like it, all you can really do is leave.”

Fatigue ‘taken seriously’

A current Emirates pilot said reporting fatigue often led to sleep apnoea testing and at least a temporary grounding. The former Emirates captain said his high use of sick days, mostly when fatigued, was noticed by management and delayed his promotion from first officer to captain for months.

An Emirates spokeswoman would not say whether taking reporting illness or fatigue could affect promotion, but said the airline maintained “the highest standards” when considering a promotion to captain.

“Flight fatigue is an issue we take seriously,” she says. “If pilots feel that Emirates has not addressed their concerns, they also have recourse of addressing this with the regulator, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).”

The president of GCAA, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, is also the chairman and chief executive of Emirates and the chairman of Flydubai.

Australia’s new rules

Locally, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in 2013 introduced new rules for pilot fatigue management. They were initially supposed to take effect this month, but the deadline was moved to May 2017 to give airlines more time to develop new systems.

The old fatigue rules defined flight and duty time limitations in a rigid way with no regard to the science behind fatigue, including whether pilots are acclimatised to the time zone. The new rules provide more flexibility for individual airlines, but each fatigue risk management system will require CASA’s approval.

Australian and International Pilots Association president Nathan Safe, whose union represents Qantas pilots, says the new science-based approach to flight-time limitations based on factors including circadian lows was welcome, but the real test will be in how it is implemented and operated.

For the major commercial airlines, the new system could result in less flying rather than more flying in many cases.

Regional Express last year claimed the new rules could cost it more than $4 million a year and might make some routes unviable.

CASA will be taking a much firmer approach to extensions of duty, with airlines required to monitor weather and airspace patterns statistically before calculating duty periods.

“Operators need to be more realistic about the possible delays in the system and ensure that if there are foreseeable delays, they can be incorporated into the maximum allowable duty period and don’t result in an extension,” a CASA spokesman said.

A Qantas 737 pilot says the change is welcome. “It will mean that Qantas will no longer be able to schedule near 12-hour day patterns,” he says.

Since 2007, Virgin has operated a data-driven fatigue risk management. Qantas, Jetstar and Tigerair are still developing their systems ahead of next May’s deadline.

It is unclear whether Jetstar and Tigerair will end the tiring Sydney-Perth-Sydney night shifts under the new system.

Qantas and Virgin say the reason these shifts aren’t done at the main carriers is because they are prohibited in the unionised employment agreements, rather than because of fatigue concerns.

Qantas Group medical director Dr Ian Hosegood said the group’s airlines have robust systems in place to manage fatigue, including a fatigue management committee which includes pilots, safety specialists and crew planners.

“We closely monitor fatigue risk on all shifts, particularly longer and late night shifts,” he says.

For example, Qantas recently changed its rostering after the Tokyo-Brisbane route, which lands at 6:45am in Brisbane after 10 hours of duty. The pilots now start their duties the following day at a later time with a reduced workload of one to two short domestic sectors.

Dr Dawson, the fatigue specialist, says pilots must also bear some responsibility, and try to limit distractions at home and partying on the road to ensure they are rested before flights.

And after more than a decade of studying fatigue in the aviation industry, he says the issue doesn’t particularly worry him when he takes a flight.

“The number of flights that crash is less than one in a million,” Dr Dawson says. “I’ve got more chance being killed on the way to the airport than in an airplane.”



23 responses to ““Flying tired: airline pilots on tough rosters battle fatigue”

  • ekobserver

    As always keep up the good that you do and helping ek staff one day see some light. Eith the recent sad events with flydubai something interesting has been removed. For ek staff we always had access to our org chart but it always showed 3 things reporting to HH. It always showed dnata, emirates and flydubai. Now all of a sudden this past few days they have removed flydubai reporting to hh!!!! Can you find if anyone has the original screenshot. Wow nice way to hide thjngs and move away from the fact that flydubai is still under the same umbrella. Also recently adel redha sent an email to all operatiin staff to “listen to views” of improving operations. Wow what a sad try. And where is the results of the survey dear HR EK? Oh i forgot slowly and slowly all your vps are getting caught up with scandals and girls on their laps???


  • just_me

    I’ve worked for them for 4 years. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows but belive me , now that I work for another airline I think I can compare them . And I work for a European one just to make it clear. We complained all the time in Emirates. I’m not saying that a 15 hrs duty to Maldives is not tireing or that 24 hrs layover in NY is something I die for but this doesn’t happen every month. I’ve done it 10 times in 4 years. But here where I work 11 hours between flights is actually considered ok for all flights. Comparing Emirates to other airlines truly gives you an ideea about how well they actually made our rosters. You can swap your flights as well for something shorter if you don t feel like doing them but people in Emirates are greedy and take extra flights for money and thats how they get tired and fatigued. If you stick to your roster and don t try to have 5 days off in a row so you can go ghome you’re actually pretty well rested. I was going to the beach, gym. Sure i worked my ass off and all the benifits I had were well deserved but trust me the rosters are not that bad…for crew I mean. For pilots can t really comment on them. Sure it doesn’t help that crew are not educated to rest before flights. This is what beeing an airline crew is all about…managing your rest. You have to take care of yourself…..if you go drinking the night before till you pass out this is gonna affect you as well. You can have a good time without passing out and live your life. A layover is for resting not partying till you drop and untill people in the compay will understand that they will always be tired. before US i had at least 2 days off…after 2 days off…sure IAD kills you every time but yoy can get ta’s for them…just stop beeing greedy!


    • D.

      I don’t think that all the cabin crew drink that much or that all are greedy. If you want to be taken seriously, stop generalizing. It also doesn’t cost you anything to say which European airline, so that we can check your information.


    • EK Managah

      Tell us about what happens when you are sick? Do you have to report to EGHQ just to tell them you are sick and to get no treatment? Or called in on your days off for a nonsense complaint. Or about your own time spent studying for free. Or the bullying by Management. Or are you an EK Troll?

      Liked by 1 person

      • D.

        Maybe TAROM is worse than EK. It sounded like Lufthansa or Swiss Airline at first when he said “European Airline”. But since it is the Romanian one, I guess conditions are bad there as well.


        • just_me

          Such a EK attitude from you D. Sorry you can’t get over your poor choice of jobs few years ago :). I do now more online courses at home and not beeing payed than I did in Emirates. The sad fact is you people comment but don;t really experience other airlines to compare. I generalize about people that call sick. How many people were calling sick when they weren’t sick and just wanted to go out. I wasn’t a sick crew so I didn;t need the ek clinic. Trust me…nobosy wants sick crew in their airline :). And you should darling D. that Swiss offered somebody from EK a job and withdrew the offer after he resigned and canceled the visa. So just because you assume some things and disclose where I’m writing from doesn’t make you right. Keep poison yourself with this blog if nothing else fulfills you :). Best of luck ! With your attitude you are gonna need it :))


          • D.

            I am not sure now whether you work for the “The European Airline” or you are doing online courses from home or you are just lying. 🙂


          • just_me

            Sadly enough around 2 years ago when I disegreed with you on an article you wrote …at that time I was wirting from Dubai had the same reaction and disclosed where I was writing from and assumed I was a staff working in the office.I would tell what airline I work for but as you did when you joined Emirates I did sign a confidentiality agreement. I take it seriously. If you cant be a professional on your own blog why do you require this from the airline you work for?! Of course people that don;t agree with you must be all liars. I just wanted to share on this blog of yours another opinion so whoever reads it doesn’t consider that what you say is actually is an opinion shared by everyone.


          • D.

            Actually, in EK they wouldn’t give you a chance to say your opinion. Enjoy your freedom of speech. 🙂


          • D IS FUNNY

            You know, I’ve realised this one wants to work 2 days and rest 10. Work 3 hours and rest 21. Also, every single comment someone writes she or her lovely followers come by to say how much of an EK defender you are. I giving up trying to find a silver line here. She doesn’t want to work, end of. It is clear to see this had nothing to do with labour rights. Shame, what a brain waste!


    • NoMoreBS

      You are definitely a mgmt troll.

      If EK has enough employees there is no need to give more hours to “greedy” crew.

      If there is shortage of employees, cut down the network (or) hire more employees.

      There is no need to fly 1/3 full planes to everywhere. You do that anyway to dump capacity on others.

      If you believe mgmt BS, EK gets 40,000 applications every year, and no shortage of money. What is the problem?


      • D IS FUNNY

        Soooo, everyone who tries to give their opinion here that goes somehow against yours belongs to EK? People are really smart! Shame shame shame. 7 billion people in the world, and all of the ones that don’t share your opinion are EK. Smart! EK has a lot of employees then, I see. I got promoted to manager and I don’t even work for EK. AWESOME! WHERE IS MY MONEY!


        • D.

          7 billion people don’t read this blog. Only EK employees, EK managers and few interested parts (other airlines, media and various government and international agencies who read it in silence). There are only few of you who don’t share the opinion of the majority and all of you sound the same and have the same arguments every each time. I have deleted only few of racist and rude comments. The conclusion is clear and logical. I think EK is paying you enough, you’ve already got your money. And I am doing enough for EK by letting you trolls comment here. Enjoy reading and keep discovering!


        • EK Managah

          Wow D is funny. An impressive rant. A bronze najoom will be winging its way to you! Funnily enough, it is well known that EK Managers who are terrified of this blog and its almost weekly revelations log on many times daily. As an ex senior manager, I used to see and hear about this daily. I would like to ask you a few questions and as you seem such a nice and well informed person, please do share your thoughts with our readers. Tim Clark tells all and sundry that EK has no subsidies and publishes audited accounts. So did Enron….
          EK has the Emirates Airlines Foundation. No accounts have ever been published and there is a paucity of information. Corruption allegations from a respected former SVP in Emirates IT are ignored. EK staff still await the promised results of “The Survey” that led to several VPs being sacked. I could go on. You know what, I will! Here we go. What about the numerous deaths on the ramp of low paid loaders from the subcontinent that are unreported. Tell us what EK did to assist staff in Karachi at Gerrys/Dnata after they were murdered at work by terrorists. Remind me again, how much EK spend on Sports Sponsorship? Look at the Fatigue issues. Contract “adjustment” letters. Cabin Crew reporting to headquarters to show they are sick without being able to obtain treatment. These are all factual. And you wish to pull up D on asking the salary of an incompetent manager. Is that the best a management troll can do? I will let others decide what would be more important to them if they are at EK or are considering joining. By the way, what do you think of the fact there is no Labour Law applicable to EK? Or about Sheikh Ahmed’s name being removed from Fly Dubai or the relationship between Sheikh Ahmed and the UAE regulator (GCAA) and safety implications of rostering. On the contrary, you deary are a management troll, paid to try to take the sting out of honest and substantiated comment that shows EK for the deceitful and thuggish company that it has become. New ground is set in the race to the bottom that EK managers are participating in. Nasty viscous Brits aided by sycophantic Indians (who sold out their own) are a toxic mix indeed. Off to Costa fo my well-earned Latte and Cheese twist. Keep Discovering.

          Liked by 1 person

          • NoMoreBS

            Glad to see someone able to confirm authoritatively the British-Indian torture chamber theory.

            Why Indians sold out their own? Indian males always want an airline which makes young Caucasian female FAs serve them.

            Indian regulations won’t allow their carriers hire foreign FAs (unless it is a wet lease).

            EU/US carriers have mostly old Caucasian FAs on LH/ULH routes. Union driven seniority based bidding…

            Only Sir TC able to fulfill this mandatory requirement.


  • just_me

    Plus darling you should know that EASA draws the regulations regarding flight time limitations not the airline I work for 🙂


    • onlyfair

      I agree with just_me. And before you all start hating on me, which seems to be a topic in this blog, hate upon hate, I do not fly Emirates, work for Emirates, or know anyone who does any of the two. I’m just here giving my opinion, which will probably be suppressed. Who in their right mind goes to an open forum, starts asking questions, some of them FAIR questions, changes the game and asks how much the EK managers make? Seriously, I never ever EVER had the nerve (or courage – like some of you interpret, not that I think that is courage – that is blunt rudeness) to ask the CEO or my line managers how much they make. It is not my business, just as it is not your business to know how much the EK managers make. I am not defending anyone here, I do feel like some stuff in your blog is real and serious and needs to be dealt with, but let’s all be honest, do you really think that after the forum the EK managers were happy with your position? I wouldn’t be. I could be the nicest person in the whole world, and still be very unhappy with your question! The forum was opened to discuss things that are wrong, and ways to make things work, asking the line manager how much she earns does not help your cause, even if your cause is to save the world from a plane disaster. I am not saying you should keep quiet, you should not, if you find you are being mistreated you should speak up, and get as much evidence as possible, but knowing the lady’s salary is not going to save your trouble of getting long shift hours.
      Do I think you should have been fired after the forum: Not really, maybe you should have gotten a disciplinary, but not fired… Do I think there is something more to it? Yes, I totally do! I do think there was something more, and that you are not telling all the deeds. What I think is that they realised you were a pea in a pot, they did not need you, they did not need someone who would go to open forums to discuss their pay-check. Do I think they felt threatened? No, not for a minute. I think they just didn’t care if you were good or not, they have thousands and thousands of people who wanted to be in your place. Do I want to be one of them? Maybe yes, maybe not. I don’t know. Let me work with them for three months and I’ll let you know. Do I feel sorry for you? No, I think you are a wise lady that has a big future in front of you, and like I said before, I do find your blog interesting and I do see a lot of issues here that NEED to be sorted. Do I understand your cause? About the forum? NO. About the whole other issues brought up in the blog: TOTALLY YES!
      This is not a matter of who gets more and who gets less. There is many people who love to work for Emirates, and there is many that would prefer to leave. I worked 15 hours a day for months (MY DECISION) with only half hour break. Did I complain? No, time went by fast, I had my night sleep and 5 hours after I would be back to do the same job again. Did I enjoy it? No, but like I said, time went by faster and I got to realise that if you want to be a player you need to know the game. I find the system unfair, but that is how life works. When it comes to cabin crew and pilots the system is different, they need to sleep and rest, 5 hours sleep is nothing, many disaster occur because of exhaustion, schedules need changes. But my industry is another, and you were part of the ground-crew. I’ve spent 15 hours standing, there would be days that I would go home almost not feeling my legs, and do you want me to be honest with you? I enjoyed that time, because I was feeling my time was being worth, I met some nice people, and I understood the meaning of fighting.
      And not to finish the answer, because this is not a short story, and I don’t want people to fall asleep: I am not giving my name or email, not because I am part of EK, cause I am not, believe me! I am not! But because I am not stupid enough to leave my email out, stuff happens, and hate is really someone that can change people’s life. I don’t want you to know my name, just like you don’t want people to know yours.
      I will keep reading your blog, like I said, I find a lot of your articles very important, and your atitude towards a change very appropriate, but I still have to say that your position in the forum was inappropriate (excluding the other questions that were fair, like the time-off you should have taken but didn’t and the days they put you working when you should be off, or your little pay.)
      Have a good day,


      • D.

        We have a saying in Serbia: the person with the full stomach doesn’t believe the person with the empty one. My question was rhetorical. Ms Anoma didn’t have a bit of empathy towards her employees because she had everything. The question was aimed to make her think about the difference between her and her staff. She is the one with the full stomach.
        Now, I don’t care who you are, although you use EK management terminology and arguments seen so many times before. I am not interested in your acknowledgement of EK’s mistakes. I am interested to know whether EK will actually change something.
        And EK needed me. Very much so. If not to use my skills (and they should have used them while I was there), then to be their “enemy”. Nobody ever grew up and became mature (and sustainable, in company’s case) without obstacles and some honest autocriticism on their way.


      • D.

        Also, I delete only rude and racist comments. Everyone have their freedom of speech here, including you. Nobody hates you here nor this blog is about hate. If you say I was rude on the forum, I accept it may look like that, yes. I can look rude or arrogant to people who don’t see the emotion behind my words. I don’t mind you criticising me as long as you do it openly and honestly. And I would never fire you for asking how much my salary is if I was your manager. You earn my salary by being the worker who actually does the job and deals with customers, you have the right to know. My business is your business and vice versa. It’s onlyfair.


      • EK Managah

        Has your opinion been suppressed here? I guess not. Please do tell us the results of “The Survey” or did EK suppress that? This is not criticism, it is open and honest discussion. You claim to be only fair. Perhaps you should thank D for being only fair and only removing racist and comments containing bad language. Please onlyfair, write on this blog to Timi, Ahmed and Abdul Aziz imploring them to do what they publicly stated they would and publish “The Survey” After all, its onlyfair……..


      • EK Managah

        One more thing, onlyfair. Please could you comment on your thoughts as to the validity and indeed the legality of having EK writing to WordPress to try to get them to close down this blog? You talk about suppression and I am sure that there are many of us who would like you to share your thoughts, comment and understanding here? I guess you will write that EK should not have written to WordPress and were totally wrong to do so.

        I think D should run troll prizes on a monthly basis. We could vote for the Troll of the Month and the lucky winner could receive a fully logoed up Fly Emirates Shirt from the Rugby, Football, Golf, Cricket, Tennis, Tiddly Winks etc ranges.The lucky winner could tick their preference and the shirt could be delivered directly to their desk in Costa, I mean EGHQ, at no extra charge as it would be only fair! We could even arrange an interview with Safar. It could go like this.

        “As (a Brit) SVP of Blog Management (non UAE-based) I was so surprised that one of my Indian underlings could write a letter that I just dressed up and got all the credit for. This troll award is a testament to my arrogance and overwhelming God like power to suck up to get a bigger bonus. I will never leave and know I will never get a proper job again. Emirates had 7 billion job applications last year from Planet Earth and we expect more from Martians when we announce our new route to Slough, the capital of Planet Mars using our A380-800ER.

        Emirates is a Dubai-based Airline operating a range of blah blah blah

        We could do one size for the shirts, XXXXXL as then only the Brits sitting in Costa will be eligible…

        Liked by 1 person

  • Jack

    Well done.
    We are support you!



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