Australia’s largest pilot union has warned that the indifference of airline managements and young pilots to training standards and experience is dragging down safety from its previously high level in this country.

It has sent a Statement of Concern on Diminishing Flight Standards to senators in advance of the impending Senate Inquiry into these matters.

Headed Are we handing the keys of the Ferrari to a bunch of P-platers the paper by the Australian and International Pilots Association says the operational safety of the country’s major airlines is falling.

The president of the association, Captain Barry Jackson, said this morning that there was a ‘total disconnection between new managements at airlines and the high safety cultures of the past that Australians are lead to believe in today.’

The AIPA paper says pilot conditions and training arrangements are being made “the playthings of young MBAs trying to make their mark in the business world.”

The Senate inquiry, instigated by the South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon, will consider tough new standards for pilot training and experience levels in Australia following the US reaction to the Colgan crash at Buffalo in February 2009, which killed 50 people after two badly trained and fatigued pilots lost control of a Q400 turboprop.

The US Federal Aviation Administration subsequently lifted the minimum experience level for a first officer flying for a major American carrier to 1500 hours, compared to as little as 250 hours in Australia.

In the paper, AIPA says :

“We must make a stand to protect the safety of the public and ourselves…There is growing evidence that we have stagnated at safety levels achieved in 2003 and may even be going slowly backwards.

“Very low air fares have increased the demographic pool of potential air travellers and created a significant demand for increased capacity that appears set to continue.

“However the expectation of the public is generally that the cheap fares come without any reduction in safety.”

AIPA says the current emphasis on streamlined and lower flight time progression to a pilot job with a major airline is fraught with compromises, exacerbated by shifting the costs to the would be pilots through courses run by third party training solutions providers who are compromised by the need to churn out ‘qualified’ pilots to the carriers who award them contracts.

The statement makes no secret of AIPA’s industrial agenda in terms of protecting Australian pilot jobs in Australia but also expresses what many have recently spoken about in recent times as serious failures in the cultural attitudes of new pilot recruits and the low cost carrier management styles of all the major Australian carriers, which despises and exploits those trying to fast track their careers in them.

These extracts are in the order that they appear in a document that will be posted in full on the Australian Parliament House web site in the near future.

part 01

It also raises concerns about the rapid progression of inexperienced first officers to being inexperienced captains as new style airline managers try to find enough pilots to meet their expansion goals.

part 02

It says that “Well hidden from the public eye, regulators across the world are struggling to keep up with the ramifications of new entrepreneurial business models that have pushed the boundaries of regulatory frameworks.”

part 03

In an interview earlier today the president of AIPA Captain Barry Jackson drew attention to the removal of flight standards technical expertise from the management loop in Australian carriers. This receives considerable coverage in the statement of concern.

part 04

The statement also refers to the consequences in the cockpit of captains having to deal with manifestly inexperienced first officers in operational circumstances in which the performance of both becomes degraded.

part 05 gamble

AIPA draws attention to a glaring deficiency in Australian regulations concerning captain experience in larger airliners.

part 05b write

The issue of a young pilot indifference to or impatience with the concepts of flight experience excellence believed in by most Australians, and promoted by airline public relations is also discussed.

part 06c

  • Want success quickly and pay-packet to match
  • Do not see the need to earn credibility or work their way up the corporate ladder
  • Do not want to do menial tasks, but instead crave challenging and creative responsibilities
  • Have little loyalty to companies, but are loyal to their peers
  • Likely to work for only two to three years with any one employee
  • Likely to change careers six times in their working life
  • Cynical, questioning and live for ‘now’
  • Expect training programs, time off to travel and flexible working hours (Foundations Consulting 2006)

part 6 D

The statement of concern draws an alarming association between the ambitions of a new generation of pilots and the lack of connection to flight standards safety cultures in a new generation of managers.

“AIPA believes that there are flight safety risks that arise either directly through reductions in flight standards or indirectly as responses to changes in corporate culture and the social welfare of pilots. “

The paper accuses the airlines (in general) of treating pilots as a commodity “to be cost managed not nurtured.”

part 07

It offers a bleak assessment of where all of this is leading without significant regulatory change and intervention by CASA.

part 08

AIPA recommends radical changes in CASA’s responsibilities for oversight of flight training and pilot standards including the occupational stress factors involved in pilot paid training endorsements, long commutes to work, and fatigue and roster issues.

It also backs calls already made by Senator Xenophon to make it an offence for an airline to interfere with either a report about a safety event, or with the employee who reports a safety matter to CASA or to the ATSB.

A detailed timetable for the Senate inquiry has not yet been announced however it is expected to report by the middle of November.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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