Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201700062
Date reported 23 June 2017
Concern title Accountability by airline crewing department for fatigue issues
Concern summary

The concern related to the lack of accountability shown by the airline’s crewing department when calling flight crew in on a rostered day off.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Air transport
Concern subject type Aviation: Flight crew

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern related to the lack of organisational accountability shown by [operator] when their crewing department contacts flight crew, on their rostered day off, within three to four hours of sign on, to request that they accept an additional ‘back of clock’ duty.

The reporter advised that on multiple occasions they have been contacted by the crewing department to operate a ‘back of clock’ duty, as the pilot in command of a return flight from Sydney to either [location 1] or [location 2]. This involves a continuous duty of between 10:50 to 11:05, if there are no delays, at a time of low circadian rhythm. To operate these flights, the crewing officer was offering no less than $3,870 plus meal allowances on top of any normal remuneration. No questions were asked by the crewing department related to whether they were fit to accept the duty.

The reporter advised that even though it is a crew member’s responsibility to ensure that they are not fatigued before accepting the flight, [operator] also has a responsibility to ensure that the crew member is not fatigued.

Reporters comment:

It appears evident that the crewing officers are making requests on a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ basis as it relates to the rest that has been achieved by the flight crew member in spite of the ‘mutual responsibility’ to fatigue management.

This is concerning when considered in the context of the significant financial incentives, flight crew members have to self-define the meaning of ‘adequate rest’ as it relates to any given duty without any objective guidance provided for comparison.

The nature of fatigue on such a duty poses a significant risk to flight safety and the financial incentives for flight crew to either disregard or inadequately address such safety risks is of a compounding nature.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

We do consider how and when we contact flight crew, doing so in a structured manner so that the allocation of duties is done in accordance with set policies and procedures.

With respect to the contacting of flight crew on a day off to offer a duty, this occurs only when flight crew become unavailable for their assigned duty and available standby coverage has been exhausted. Should this be the case, flight crew members who are on a day off may be contacted and offered flying. Any such offer of flying is definitely that, just an offer.

There is no contractual obligation for a flight crew member to be contactable on a day off and should a flight crew member choose to answer a call from the company there is no contractual obligation to accept the offer. Nor is a reason required to decline an offer.

When an offer of flying is provided, there is no provision or allowance for a crewing officer to offer any payment ‘on top of any normal remuneration’. Should a flight crew member accept an offer of flying on a day off it is remunerated solely in accordance with the terms of the flight crew member’s employment agreement.

We cannot determine whether a person is fatigued while on a day off nor can a crewing officer realistically assess such prior to providing an offer of a duty, however prior to any offer of a flight duty a review of the individual’s roster to assess legality to operate is conducted. This review of legality to operate includes a check of whether the individual has been provided with appropriate time free of duty prior to the offered duty.

Time free of duty provides the opportunity for adequate rest, as prescribed by the regulator and directly reproduced in the our Operations Manual (reproduced below).

Adequate Well-Being Before Flight

A flight crew member shall not knowingly operate an aircraft and an operator shall not knowingly require or knowingly permit a flight crew member to operate an aircraft unless at the start of any duty period:

  • The operator has provided opportunity for and the flight crew member has taken adequate rest
  • The operator has provided opportunity for and the flight crew member has taken adequate sustenance
  • The flight crew member is free of any fatigue, illness, injury, medication or drug, which could impair the safe exercise of their licence privileges.

Whether an individual takes or has taken ‘adequate rest’ during the provided time free of duty is in their control and can only be assessed by the individual, as ‘adequate rest’ is subjective and varies from individual to individual.

Should a flight crew member not be adequately rested they are legally required to not operate. Which in this case would mean just not accepting the duty offer or advising the crewing officer that they cannot accept the offer as they are not rested.

With respect to fatigue [operator] considers this as a serious risk and has processes in place to allow the removal of a flight crew member from duty due to any fatigue concerns.

Removal from duty due to fatigue concerns may be enacted by either an individual flight crew member or by the company, and to this end all flight crew members have undergone fatigue awareness education to assist in assessing and reporting fatigue.

Trusting that this feedback provides some information for your reporter.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

CASA has reviewed the REPCON and notes that the reporter is not challenging the legality of the fight duty being offered to the off duty crew member. CASA notes the operator’s assertion that the flight duty was offered in accordance with established crewing policies and procedures and that remuneration was in accordance with the applicable employment agreement.

Implicit in the operator’s response to the REPCON is an acknowledgement that the management of fatigue is a responsibility shared by the flight crew and the company. CASA notes that substantive detail regarding how each party should meet its respective responsibility is not expected to be raised by CASA’s Certificate Management Team (CMT) for [operator] until a proposed amendment to CAO 48.1 comes into force.

Taking into account the potential for extended periods of wakefulness during a ‘back-of-the-clock’ flight duty period offered to a flight crew member on their rostered day off, CASA’s Human Factors (HF) and Safety Management Systems (SMS) subject-matter experts have developed a number of suggested measures that could address the risk of fatigue arising from this practice. These have been forwarded to the CMT oversighting [operator] for their consideration and are presented in Appendix 1.

Appendix 1

When making the offer to a flight crew member for a ‘back-of-the-clock’ duty on a day off, [operator] should consider taking the following steps to ensure the risk of fatigue is managed proactively.

a) The responsibility of the organisation and the individual to adhere to sound sleep/fatigue management practices is a cornerstone of an effective SMS/FRMS. Individual fatigue education/ongoing training should specifically cover the potential hazard associated with accepting additional duties (whether work or personal) when on a rostered day off. Equally, an organisation’s fatigue management policy and procedures documents should specifically address offering ‘back-of-the- clock’ duties to a flight crew member who is on a day off. Lastly, crewing officers must follow the organisation’s fatigue management policies and their training should assure their awareness of this obligation.

b) Any agent acting on behalf of the operator is responsible for assuring crew members being offered ‘back-of-the-clock’ duties are fit for the duty as reasonably practicable. Knowledge of the length of the sleep opportunity of a flight crew member, consideration of the notification time of such a contact should be standard practice and demonstrate a reasonable effort to ensure the fitness to fly of the individuals contacted.

c) Some form of ‘standardised’ pre-emptive safeguard incorporated into existing policies and procedures requiring the crewing officer to enquire about the recent sleep history of the flight crew member using a short checklist would be a relatively simple enhancement to the existing SMS. A structured decision process could be built into the checklist to allow for a set of ‘standards’ to be followed to ensure that critical areas are addressed. Any ‘score’ that exceeds a set limit would prevent a flight crew member from accepting a duty. The checklist might request information such as:

  • how long the flight crew member has been awake at the time the offer is made
  • how much sleep has been achieved in the past 24 hours
  • have they engaged in strenuous physical activity
  • have they engaged in mentally taxing activities (e.g., study)
  • a rating of how fit for the duty they feel.

d) When crewing involves a member(s) who was scheduled to be off, encouragement to engage the application of the organisation’s approved fatigue countermeasures such as controlled in-flight rest, to maximize alertness and minimize drowsiness should be part of the crew’s briefing. A further strategy might require the flight crew member called-in on their day off to be pilot-flying on the first sector and pilot-not-flying on the second sector.

e) The operator should maintain records of instances where a flight crew member accepts a ‘back-of-the-clock’ duty on a day off as a means of demonstrating the effectiveness of the SMS applied to the scheduling practices. Additional information that may be useful include recording factors such as:

  • a pre-duty assessment of how alert they feel, e.g. Samn-Perelli score
  • a post-duty assessment of how alert they feel
  • whether controlled in-flight rest was used during the flights – if so
    - how much was achieved
    - was it perceived to be effective.

Such questions could be used within the SMS/FRMS as metrics for the use of the procedure and provide information concerning the efficacy of its continuation.

Last update 12 July 2018