If you are looking for the best sleeper seats on an airliner, we’ve found them. They are in the cockpits.

In response to last week’s Crikey report on the pilot crisis in Australian skies, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority says it is committed to abolishing the long-standing rule limiting flight duty to 900 hours.

And pilots tell us it has already been abolished through confidential deals with airlines to allow so much flexibility to current crewing arrangements that “anything” is legal. They claim a significant number of pilots are flying more than 200 hours a year over the limits, and agreeing to rosters that prevent them getting a single proper sleep-break for extended periods on duty.

But this is no ordinary labor dispute.

It is possible a majority of pilots are the willing victims of a retreat from the finite regulation of flight hours and are embracing the hairy-chested approach to long hours and extra money that has been such a success for truck drivers and road haulage firms.

Our informants claim that once the principle of a rigorous definition of duty and rest hours is abolished, the airlines and their pilots will push their respective agendas for more productivity and more pay until it ends in a disaster where no one can claim any rules were broken at all, only a jet and its contents.

CASA says:- (our italics)

As you know, there is a world-wide push to move to fatigue-risk management systems rather than the existing flight and duty-time standards that apply to pilots. The world aviation community believes a more scientific approach to managing fatigue will lead to better safety.

In Australia, there have been a number of trials of fatigue-risk-management systems and one is underway right now with a major airline. These trials have been done in conjunction with university sleep and fatigue experts and with the agreement of pilot unions. As results are studied it is hoped that better fatigue-risk-management systems can be developed, particularly ones that respond to the individual needs of each air operator, recognising that the methods of managing fatigue will vary.

CASA is also consulting the aviation industry more broadly on how regulations can be developed to implement fatigue-risk-management systems, through an NPRM. The idea is that new regulations will eventually replace the current Civil Aviation Order 48, which sets out flight and duty time standards.

In addition, there is a revised draft of CAO 48 (which sets the 900-hours limit) which CASA has put to the industry for comment, intended to operate while rules for fatigue risk management systems are being developed.

All this is being done to improve safety by better managing the risks of fatigue. It is not being done to assist airlines “through their current difficulties in finding enough pilots to maintain their schedules”. CASA is not aware of any breaches of the current CAO 48 requirements … but if evidence is brought to CASA it will investigate.

The CASA confidential reporting hotline is 1800 074 737.

Crikey would like some of our informants to call that number at what might just as well be the airline productivity assistance authority and repeat the serious but unverifiable allegations that have been made to us.

The issue of fitness for duty in pilots is no less important than the rostering of air traffic controllers. Australia has one of the finest ATC systems in the world, but three years after a controller slept in while a Qantas 737 was inadvertently flown by tired pilots up an alpine valley in the dark on a botched approach to Canberra airport, there are claims that fatigue is at least as much an issue at Airservices Australia as it is for the airlines.