Updated: 6th December 2018: In an emailed statement, flydubai has confirmed that this incident is still under investigation. The cause of the incident has not been determined and this article is not intended to infer in any way that pilot fatigue was the cause of the disputed incident.
Further information can be found here.
New concerns have been raised over pilot fatigue issues at flydubai following a recent incident at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. On Sunday morning, it’s been reported that one of the low-cost airline’s flights attempted to takeoff from the airport without first receiving clearance from air traffic controllers. The control tower apparently noticed what was happening and instructed the pilots to reject their takeoff – the plane eventually managed to leave the runway some 1,700 metres down runway 06R.
After rejecting the unapproved takeoff, the pilots requested a return to stand where authorities met the aircraft and interviewed the flight crew. The flight eventually departed some two and a half hours late before safely arriving in Dubai. The Russian authorities haven’t yet issued a report on the incident and the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority has not responded for a request to comment.
Worryingly, reports suggest there was another passenger plane crossing the runway at the time of the incident although a spokesperson for flydubai says the flight had been cleared for takeoff. Offering a different narrative, the airline says flight FZ918 actually returned to stand for refuelling and de-icing.
At present, it’s unclear what the exact cause or causes of this near-miss were, although human factors will likely have played a big part. Whether fatigue contributed to the actions of the pilots will also no doubt be closely looked at by investigators.
Pilot fatigue is a serious concern for many aviators and questions will again be asked about flydubai’s treatment of flight crew. In 2016, a cache of leaked safety reports and internal memo’s at the Dubai-based airline shone a light on a culture of fatigue and overwork.
According to an aviation safety expert interviewed by the London-based Guardian newspaper, a higher number than expected fatigue reports were found in the cache of evidence. The expert told the newspaper:
“The fatigue reports feature a significant number of complaints of both poor rostering practice (repeated changing from day to night duties or 24-hour rest periods – in which it is impossible to both rest after a long duty and before the next) and pressure from crew rostering to continue when the crew are complaining of fatigue.”
Pilots cited concerns about fatigue-inducing rosters, lack of rest, and pressure applied by managers to work into ‘discretion’.
The trove of leaked papers was unearthed after the fatal crash of flydubai flight FZ981 in Rostov-On-Don, Russia on 18th March 2016. The accident resulted in the deaths of all 62 passengers and crew onboard the aircraft after the plane crashed amidst bad weather surrounding the airport. A subsequent report found that there had been no mechanical problems with the aircraft but that the pilots could actually have suffered an optical illusion that resulted in them crashing the jetliner.
Following the crash, a number of flydubai pilots spoke out against the company. Speaking to the BBC, one anonymous pilot said he believed “fatigue must have been a contributory factor.” The Greek Captain of the doomed aircraft had already resigned from the airline citing fatigue and lifestyle issues as the reason for leaving flydubai.
One pilot told the BBC: “Crew are overworked and suffering from fatigue. It is a significant risk.” Another claimed: “The writing was on the wall. Most crews are running on empty anyway. Everyone is tired.”
Of course, this isn’t an issue that just effects flydubai. Fatigue has been suggested as a contributory factor in a recent incident involving an El Al flight which took off some 40 tons heavier than the pilot thought the plane was. A narrowly avoided accident at San Francisco airport in July 2017, where the pilots of an Air Canada Airbus A320 nearly landed on a taxiway full of other passenger planes was also caused in part because of fatigue.
It’s understood that flydubai has taken action over the last couple of years to address some of the concerns raised although this incident comes at a time that the airline is under pressure to cut costs and improve performance following a poor financial performance. In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the flydubai told us:
“flydubai flight FZ918 from Sheremetyevo to Dubai on 02 December departed at 08:57 local time with a total delay of 3hr 12 mins. The aircraft, which was cleared for take-off, returned to stand for refuelling and de-icing prior to proceeding to take-off for the second time in line with standard procedures and in coordination with ATC. Clarification has been requested from the necessary authorities and there is an ongoing investigation.”