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CBC aired a series this week called Dead Tired (pilot fatigue) and it did a great job of scaring the hell out of the flying public. But maybe this is what it will take? Having said that, the show implies all sectors of aviation have dead tired pilots at the helm. I think with the majors it's far less of a problem than the "Air Rinky Dinks" out there. For one thing, not only do we have to contend with CARs (Canadian Aviation Regulations) but we must contend with pilot contracts which are a little more confining.
True pilots at small companies are reluctant to deny flying because of fatigue, but where I work all we have to do is call crew scheduling and use the "f" (fatigue) word. We are then removed from our pairing - no questions asked.
Dead Tired has not only opened a can of worms regarding fatigue but also poverty wages for many pilots and commuting. The Colgan crash certainly brought to the forefront these very issues.
Here's a few of my experiences.
Years ago I worked for one of those "Air Rinky Dink" airlines trying to build time. In fact, I was still forecasting weather, but flying on the side for a cargo company. I finished a night shift at the weather centre and no sooner did I get home, but the phone rang. "Air Rinky Dink" needed a Navajo first officer to fly to St. John's, Newfoundland via Stephenville and Deer Lake. I tried explaining to them I had just finished an 8 hour graveyard shift. The captain said they were desperately short and suggested I could sleep on the bank bags. And that's what I did. Once at cruising altitude I crawled back onto the tarp and slept. That is, until the captain had to go back and pee in a bottle.
With that same company, we would fly all morning and rest in the back room of a FSS (flight service station) in sleeping bags all day and fly the same route back at night. But like it said in the show, if I or others were reluctant to do this and work for poverty wages, there's 20 others that would.
Many assume aircrew can easily get 8 hours of prone rest while on the road. Well I've been to hotels where there are kid hockey teams running down the hallway, drunks knocking at my door (no they were not aircrew), jack hammers riveting through the building, people snoring incredibly loud in the room next door and several cases of couples copulating throughout the night. I've had jet lag insomnia causing me to be wide awake throughout the night but what does one do?
(One such insomnia case is in my book. September 10th, 2001 I could not sleep. I turned on the T.V in my Frankfurt hotel and watched a documentary on CNN. It talked about Bin Laden and his team were up to something. Well we all know what happened the following day.)
Here is an extreme case what one pilot did. The flight was delayed and it is customary for the hotel staff to slide a memo under the aircrew's door to notify of the new departure time. The Captain heard the note being slid under the door and delayed the flight a further eight hours to get his prone rest.
Another captain's attempt for rest: One crusty eccentric A340 captain I flew with demanded the flight attendants place blankets on the galley floor in order to cushion the sound of footsteps.
Plus he wanted J class (business) serviced delayed until he finished his rest. Also he wanted the flight attendants to wear soft sole shoes or remove them entirely. You can imagine how popular this captain was.
I realize my union is fighting for change in certain aspects of crew rest and that change is needed. Flying to YYT (St. John's, Newfoundland) through the night and back to Toronto may meet our 13 hour restriction, but no where does it factor in landing and taking off in the most weather plagued airport in the system.
Like the show stated, what other profession would spend $50, 000 to $65,000 on getting their qualifications only to get a job making minimum wage i.e. less than a Taco Bell employee?
This industry is unique in so many ways but don't think other industries are exempt from fatigue.