It’s been three years since our fight against greed and neglect of the achievements of global civilizations has begun.
Happy Birthday to all my readers, helpers, contributors and former EK colleagues.
It’s been three years since our fight against greed and neglect of the achievements of global civilizations has begun.
Happy Birthday to all my readers, helpers, contributors and former EK colleagues.
Since I never looked forward to Emirates Group falling apart, on this occasion I will not write a long article about the fact that we all knew that management’s eternal arrogance and incapability will lead to employees massively losing their jobs and Emirates Airline slowly vanishing from the map of succesful airlines.
To be honest, Emirates had a potential. That potential has grown to greedy company’s growth and abuse of labour and human rights. There were many warning signs, including this blog, but there was nobody to listen.
Now, some announced changes may improve the alarming situation, but people will lose their jobs and the company lost its reputation so the damage is already irreparable. It could all be prevented if there were just a few people in the top management who didn’t lose their touch with reality and who respected the front line employees who, actually, do the job, instead of caring only about their bonuses and power.
I’ve got these few photos from a Dnata employee. They present e-mails which Dnata employees got recently, notifying them that DnataTravel’s revenues are down 13% and that sales have decreased 14% and that there will be redundancies. Shame.
I wish Emirates Group good luck and I wish them to get rid of all the corrupted managers who threaten their employees with prison. I also advise them to pay their employees deserved end of service money and to treat them with dignity.
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.
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.
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.”
Employees of Emirates Airline refer to the company as a “golden cage,” which allegedly exhausts crews beyond their limits and employs punishments when complaints are filed, the administrator of a dedicated whistleblower site has told RT.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the administrator of donotflyemirates.wordpress.com, which collects the accounts of Emirates Airline pilots and publishes their stories online, stressed that the company creates “a culture of fear,” where workers feel unprotected, targeted and trapped.
The site administrator noted that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not allow unions, which leaves staff even more vulnerable to abuse.
“If you make a mistake – or even if you don’t make a mistake, if someone blames you for something – you don’t get the chance to defend yourself. You just get the warning, they just fire you.”
“After some time spent in Dubai you feel like everything you have, your whole life is in danger. Because if you get fired, you’re going to lose your house, you’re going to lose your whole life. This is why they are referring to it as a ‘golden cage.’”
The whistleblower site is already banned in the UAE, but the airline wanted to silence it further, as Emirates Airline lawyers reached out to WordPress and urged the blogging platform to take down the whistleblower site, which it refused to do.
“I received a notification from WordPress platform, they notified me that Emirates lawyers tried to take down some content from my blog, and WordPress refused them.”
The administrator, who is a former employee of Emirates Airline, told RT that all the pilots’ stories are received via email. They are all verified before they are published.
The site coordinator also received warning letters while still employed by the airline for having a “negative influence on others” when discussing shifts and workloads.
Earlier, RT spoke to current as well as former Emirates pilots, who confirmed that the company forces them to take heavy workloads and implements “bullying” techniques.
An ex-Emirates employee described the company’s rosters as “brutal,” as the pilots are “expected to switch from day to night… duties without enough rest in between,” adding that he “loses several nights of sleep every month,” is “constantly tired,” and has “no energy to do anything.”
Making matters worse is the fact that the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), charged with regulating aviation safety, has failed to act. Speaking to RT on condition of anonymity, a former Emirates pilot said that the Dubai-based aviation watchdog is not independent from the state, and thus cannot adequately fulfill its duties.
The problem is further exacerbated as the GCAA is controlled by the same people in charge of the airline. Another pilot employed by Emirates revealed that the GCAA is chaired by the CEO of Emirates Airline & Group – Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The airline itself has refused to acknowledge the problem of pilot fatigue when contacted by RT.
The latest response from an Emirates spokesperson claimed that the company meets the required standards.
“Emirates operates in a safe, highly regulated environment and our safety record, which ranks among the top in the industry, demonstrates our rigorous standards. Our crew rosters are built based on GCAA rules, which are in line with recognized international organization standards. Emirates has a Pilot Fatigue Risk Management system that continuously examines flight crew roster patterns and reviews any feedback received from our pilots. Therefore, we cannot substantiate any of the anonymous allegations that have been reported by Russia Today.”
“Emirates actively encourages staff to report on all aspects of safety so that proper analysis and investigations can be conducted. All staff are provided with a direct, easy link with management to report and provide feedback, regardless of its nature.”
However, the Emirates pilot that most recently spoke with RT disagrees, arguing that even though the airline has a Pilot Fatigue Risk Management system, it rarely does anything to address the problem. Instead, it pursues tactics of pilot intimidation to discourage further complaints.
“We file ASRs [Aviation Safety Reports], we highlight problems, and [for that] we can get called by the management, brought into the office… They highlighted a problem, they [could have] made a mistake, whether due to tiredness or just an error…and for that they simply give you a warning letter, this is happening all the time. And what happens is, people are becoming afraid to write ASRs to highlight issues, and it gets hidden,” the pilot said.
The problem is that while exhausting rosters are not illegal, they are “immoral” and “not consistent with sleep patterns,” added the pilot. “When you are flying more than 100 hours a month these issues are cumulative, and they build up. You just start to feel worse and worse and worse… But the airline will tell you ‘our rosters are legal.’ Yes, they are legal rosters. They do have some illegal rostering practices – but they won’t admit to that.”
When describing his personal experience of fatigue during flights, the pilot said that he and his co-pilot had both fallen asleep when approaching the ground, “the time when you need to be most alert.”
Aside from the issue of pilot fatigue, Emirates Airline tries to appear more professional by reusing old employee numbers on new staff, thus making it seem that they have a well-experienced team in charge of the flights, one cabin crew member told RT.
However, the reality is that “the majority of new staff are resigning within six months. Newcomers cannot cope with the workload and fatigue.”
A new blog and a very interesting point of view from a former Senior Vice President of Emirates Group IT Tom Burgess.
I appreciate that introducing a Trade Union into Emirates is probably the last thing on the company’s agenda during these challenging times, but maybe it is not such a foolish idea.
Spotlights are being focussed on the Emirates Group with increasing frequency and intensity. The motives of those holding the lights vary considerably, but it is clear that the standard Emirates response (put on the sunglasses then, if that fails, smash the bulbs) no longer works. Eventually, someone will realise that it is finally time to communicate with those guiding the lights and to have a close and open minded look at what is being illuminated. Once that is done, to enable the company to survive going forward, a total shift of management ethos will be required. Most involved will feel the need to admit that “we got it wrong” will be the toughest challenge, but far greater than that will be how to open up channels of communication with those who really matter – the staff. Those staff who, for their entire careers in Emirates, have sensibly concluded that you only ever tell your manager what s/he wants to hear. Anything else is, at best, career limiting, but more likely career terminating. Historically, managers in Emirates normally have only asked staff for their opinions to check their loyalty and compliance – a test rather than a quest. Assertions of “you can trust us now” will merely be seen as a trap. Maybe an intermediary such as a Trade Union would be able to help?
During my lifetime I have gone round a few circles with my views on Trade Unions. In the UK in the 1960’s they were often ridiculed, seemingly looking for the slightest excuse to down tools. By the early 1970’s many people thought they had too much power and by the end of that decade pretty well everyone, including some members of Trade Unions, knew they had too much power. Enter Margaret Thatcher. Whilst most people recognised the need for, and applauded the result of, her strategy, they were dismayed by her methods (and the resulting social impact) and then appalled as she subsequently took steps (which thankfully failed) to ban Trade Unions in some arenas. For quite some time afterwards, the UK employment environment seemed to provide a good model for everyone involved – staff enjoyed protection, but companies were allowed to run their businesses and communication within all industries improved dramatically. However, many feel that the balance has been tipping in recent times, with workers’ protection progressively diminishing.
My own experiences with Trade Unions were mixed. I managed in all sorts of environments – non-union (by employee choice), mixed union/non-union and total union – and this gave me forever changing perspectives. As a manager, I finally concluded that, broadly, Unions were a waste of time. But this only applied in organisations where management and the HR department actually did the jobs that they were paid to do. Sadly, such organisations are becoming rare and Emirates is light years away from such a position. If a company has a weak HR function, then managers will be tempted to run riot and the company will need a Trade Union to function effectively.
When I worked in the oil industry the production side (refineries, etc.) was heavily unionised but less so the ‘white collar’ environment. The company was properly managed and the ideals of staff involvement, communication, development, retention and motivation were embedded in everyday life, not just words on recruitment material. Naturally the production side of the business enjoyed the benefits of that approach as much as the white collar areas did, but the physical environment did not generally lend itself to open discussion. Add into the mix the need for a huge focus on safety, it was imperative that a comprehensive and forceful voice could be presented to management regarding the serious issues of the day. Regardless of how professional and experienced a manager is, balancing the need to reduce costs with the imperative of maintaining safety is never going to be easy. In an environment where the impact of an operational accident is significant, there comes a time when that challenge becomes potentially impossible. So, in that industry, an independent voice and channel (via a Trade Union) for operational staff was essential. A major incident at an oil refinery can be on the same scale as an aviation disaster.
As managers, there are times when we need to be ‘saved from ourselves’. My saviours were often colleagues in HR departments and I was privileged to have worked with some excellent people over the years. (This includes two HRM’s in Emirates, though sadly both left the company some time ago). One of my favourite HR Directors used to say “Yes, I can see what you are trying to achieve . . .” and then came the word “but”! I think senior managers in Emirates would have benefitted from that word “but” many times over the years. However, this will not happen all the time Emirates HR department is seen (both by the company and by itself) solely as an administrative support function.
I cannot say that I was ever ‘saved’ by a Trade Union representative. My HR colleagues were quite frankly streets ahead of them when it came to people issues. But I did value Union counsel when seeking staff views. I had worked in open management cultures for many years, where everyone was comfortable with saying what they thought without fear of incrimination. But following company mergers, when I found myself leading teams who had previously been managed more in the Emirates style (though nowhere near as extreme), it would have been absurd to expect everyone to open up and trust me from day one. Trust takes a long time to achieve and probably becomes permanently unachievable if you ever say “you can trust me”. But staff did (rightly) trust their Union representative, so that was a useful route to find out what staff really thought about matters. And naturally, as trust was established between managers and Union representatives, that trust permeated in all directions, to the benefit of everyone involved.
Until Emirates HR department becomes functional, there is huge gap to fill if management, indeed the company, is going to be saved from itself. Here are a few examples where truly independent involvement would have helped:
The overwhelming consensus is that the views expressed in the last staff survey were extremely bad, but nobody really knows how bad they were. Eventually, a very brief communication was issued which basically revealed nothing. Does anyone believe that any Trade Union would let a company get away with that? When a survey is commissioned staff will participate, tell the truth and rightly expect to be given the results. How will Emirates, in the future, obtain information that can only be obtained by a comprehensive staff survey? Who will bother? Only those who fear that non completion will result in a penalty will complete it. And if they have concluded that the survey is not confidential, they will not relay any concerns they have. A Trade Union could have saved Emirates from itself on this one. No matter how bad the results were, the impact from publishing them would have not been as negative as it has been by burying the exercise.
The ‘Truth about Emirates Airline Management’ blog has been running for what seems like an eternity. Those who initially asserted ‘ignore it, it will soon go away’ are looking rather silly now. With the existence of a Trade Union, that blog would never have been initiated. If a Trade Union were now to be introduced in Emirates, that blog would soon be taken down. With a Trade Union in place, there would never have been the need to record a meeting, as no manager would risk such behaviour if they had to account to a Trade Union. Had there been an issue between the company and an employee, a Union would have helped an appropriate and amicable way forward to be reached. Had a genuine impasse been reached regarding End of Service benefits, a Union would have assisted with a solution. The need for the ‘truth’ blog should never have arisen but, if the issues that prompted it had somehow not been picked up, a Union would have insisted that action be taken to have the blog removed. It is not only the Emirates Group that is being exposed and made a laughing stock by the ‘truth’ blog, staff members are impacted too. People want to be proud of the company they work for, not ashamed of it. And there must be many in Emirates who are concerned that they too may get a mention – though this is probably a real benefit of the blog as managers who bully will have certainly backed off in response to this particular spotlight. A Union would be able to force the advice (that most people worked out over a year ago) onto Emirates management – stop throwing bricks, go and talk to the lady with the lamp!
Major tragic events in the aviation industry in the last few years have drawn the travelling public to aviation forums and many will be alarmed at the increasing swell of concern about the fitness of flight deck crew to operate safely. It is too easy to make arguments at the ends of the scale – ‘lazy, overpaid prima donnas’ through to ‘so tired I cannot keep awake’. The same goes for the ‘over regulated’/ ‘under regulated’ arguments as well as the ‘ruthless profiteers’ versus the ‘hopelessly inefficient, but bailed out by government’ descriptions of airlines. The travelling public can only feel confident about what is a very complex equation, if they are certain that the overall framework is comprehensive and constructed with firm and independent parts. The public want to have confidence that an airline encourages and reacts to staff (at all levels) concerns, has an alternate and confidential route (such as via a Trade Union) for such communication (should individuals prefer) and is regulated by a genuinely independent official agency. A cynic can always question the competence and the true independence of all those involved, but what I have just described is a pretty robust and balanced framework. But take away the Trade Union and the structure loses its rigidity. Regardless if it is true or not, what travellers are deducing from the aviation forums at the moment is that the airlines and the regulator in the Middle East are working hand in hand and that staff views, if heard at all, are ignored. One picture currently being presented is that if a member of Emirates flight deck crew has a concern about safety, then their best chance of being listened to would be to contact either a German Trade Union or a Russian news channel. Would it not be better if s/he could talk to a Trade Union representing staff in Emirates? I am sure if that option were to be available, the public would feel more confident about flying with Emirates.
I do recognise that just to mention the words ‘Trade Union’ in Emirates could lead to serious consequences, so maybe ‘Staff Association’ would be more palatable. It would require a sea change in management attitude, but anyone who believes that a sea change in management attitude is not required in Emirates is a fool. Membership could be optional, though most companies see the benefit of a strong Union or Association, so actively encourage people to join. Individuals could then join and see if it works for them.
And if they don’t like it, they can leave!!