Airline CEO urges employees to overcome fatigue

(CNN) — As chaos reigns in the airline industry this summer, an airline CEO has come up with a novel way to reduce flight cancellations: asking employees to take less time.

József Váradi, CEO of Wizz Air, the European low-cost airline, told employees at a meeting this week that too many of them take time off because of fatigue and that “sometimes you have to go the extra mile”.

Pilot fatigue is taken seriously in the industry, and the Flight Safety Foundation calls it an “internationally recognized issue related to the broader issue of fitness for duty.” IATA, the International Air Transport Association, has issued a 148-page report on managing crew fatigue, and the FAA produces awareness videos for the industry.

Fatigue was also an element blamed for the 1999 crash of American Airlines Flight 1420 that killed 11 people.

The remark, made during a private call to all Wizz Air employees in all areas of the company, was recorded and divided on social media by the European Cockpit Association, who called it a “warning about insufficient safety culture”.

In the clip, Váradi says: “Now that everyone is back to work, I understand that fatigue is a possible consequence of the problems. But once we start stabilizing rosters, we need to lower the fatigue rate as well.

“We cannot run this business when every fifth person on a base is sick because the person is tired.

“We’re all tired. But sometimes it is necessary to go the extra mile.

“The damage is enormous when we cancel a flight. It’s reputational damage to the brand and it’s the other financial damage, the transactional damage, because we have to pay compensation for that.”

A Wizz Air spokesman said the comment was aimed at all airline employees and not specifically at pilots.

“This clip was excised from a briefing to all employees (not just pilots but also cabin crew and all office workers) on important business updates and current aviation challenges,” the spokesman said in a statement. “Supply chain issues affect all airlines, particularly employee availability and well-being.

“The unavailability of our crew was very low at 4%. In this context, there has been discussion about going the extra mile to minimize disruption. What this doesn’t mean is compromising security.

“Wizz Air and the airline industry are highly regulated and safety is and always will be our first priority. We have a robust and accountable crew management system that meets the needs of our people and allows us to serve as many customers as possible in the current challenging environment.”

“All it takes is one mistake”

But Aedrian Bekker, a clinical and aviation psychologist and director of the UK Center for Aviation Psychology, told CNN that the fact that Váradi hasn’t specifically targeted pilots doesn’t make it any better, calling the staff’s absence “an indicator of the.” Moral”.

“When an organization has a problem with increased sick leave among staff, the reasons often come down to the organization. Telling pilots to give up goes against every grain of sound safety management over the last 20 years,” he said.

“Many pilots working for major airlines often feel like they’ve been treated like commodities, worked to the limit of legal capacity and then disposed of when no longer needed.”

He added that it’s not just pilots who, when tired, can make a mistake that could set off a catastrophic chain of events.

“We know all parts of aviation are very tight at the moment and these people are working under incredible stress,” he said.

“If a check-in clerk is tired, could they set off a chain of events that would be difficult to prevent? All it takes is one person to make a mistake and not think about the repercussions – for someone not to retighten a screw, or unscrew a screw properly.

“We can all relate to that [those kinds of lapses] but in any safety-critical industry, telling people to give up and work harder? Common sense dictates that this isn’t wise — especially not for a CEO who’s paid big bucks to motivate and fuel.

“If you were undergoing a medical procedure, how confident would you feel knowing that the person performing it is exhausted, even if you work in a fantastic background with technology – would you feel comfortable if you get under your knife? Despite the level of automation, the crew still make extremely critical safety decisions – especially when faced with issues such as storms or severe delays.”

The leaked video was met with horror by the aviation community on social media. A pilot tweeted: “That’s one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever heard from an airline CEO. It speaks to a fundamental lack of understanding of fatigue and its impact on flying.”
Steven Ehrlich, chairman of PilotsTogether, a charity supporting UK pilots who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, told CNN: “Asking pilots to fly exhausted is a dangerous and inadequate precedent that harms passengers, pilots and the unnecessarily endangering the public on the ground .

“We encourage drivers to pull over to the side of the road or to a rest area when they are tired, and in this profession there is no difference: safety comes first. There is no room for compromise.

“Any airline that plays fast and loose with this rule will end up losing the confidence of its passengers, its pilots and the public. Fatigue leads to a possible loss of attention, it allows mistakes and perception to be altered.

“Pilots are more stressed these days due to the impact of Covid layoffs, the need to re-skill and refresh skills, and airline operating pressures, which are all in the news at the moment.”

Pilots union BALPA tweeted: “We are shocked that an airline CEO is advising actions that go against basic safety culture in such a way. BALPA urges Mr. Varadi to quickly clarify that Wizz Air would fully support any pilot doing the right thing by not flying for safety reasons when feeling tired of passengers, crew and aircraft.”
Last week, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association flagged pilot fatigue as a danger, telling local press: “Fatigue can be as dangerous as drug and alcohol abuse and can lead to mistakes with potentially fatal consequences.”

Based in Hungary, Wizz Air is one of the fastest growing low-cost airlines in Europe. It also prides itself on having the least polluting fleet on the continent.

Main image: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via AP

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