Qantas pilots have sought an urgent definition — on safety grounds — of flight duty hours in an overnight filing with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s Industry Complaints Commissioner, Michael Hart.

The documents shown to Crikey put the safety regulator on the spot over whether it has in effect allowed Australian carriers to ”rort” pilot duty hours.

The Australian & International Pilots Association wants the commissioner to confirm that duty hours include the pre-flight and post-flight procedures and not the block time between wheels-up and wheels-down.

It is a very straightforward issue.

Preparing a jet and calculating its fuel load, emergency diversions, and route depending on the conditions adds hours to the duty time of flight crew, especially flying multiple domestic segments in one day.

But since 2005, Australian carriers have convinced CASA that the actual duty hours limit should be calculated on block time between airports and excluding ground duties.

This allows airlines to ”legally” roster pilots for rotations that were previously illegal. It has serious fatigue implications, and routinely causes pilots on a transcontinental rotation to complain of inadequate rest periods.

The pilots’ complaint includes written evidence that CASA agreed with their long standing definition of duty hours on 12 August 2005.

But on 31 August 2005, after fierce airline lobbying, it rescinded this definition, stating that the airlines preferred the ”more commercially beneficial block-time calculation.”

Since then the Qantas pilots and CASA have been in stalemate on the issue, and the lodging of the complaint will force an outcome.

The documents are disturbing. Is CASA there to regulate safety or help the airlines cut corners with commercially beneficial rulings that would make a trucking company blush?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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