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Air France Pilots Union Sounds the Alarm Over ‘Chronic Fatigue’ And Depression Amongst Flight Crew at the Airline

Air France Pilots Union Sounds the Alarm Over ‘Chronic Fatigue’ And Depression Amongst Flight Crew at the Airline

Photo Credit: Air France

An Air France pilots union has sounded the alarm over what it claims is “chronic fatigue” and depression amongst flight crew at the Paris-based airline in an open letter to the French Ministry of Transport.

The Alter union claims Air France Group chief executive Benjamin Smith is pursuing a personal ambition to hit profit targets in spite of warnings that flight safety could be jeopardised.

Unlike a number of European airlines, Air France has not needed to slash back its schedule over the busy summer months, but the pilots union says this “ambitious recovery program” is being maintained despite staff shortages including among pilots and cabin crew.

As a result, the Alter union alleges that trips are being “built to the limits” (of pan-European safety rules) and that flights are being operated with reduced crew numbers with minimum rest periods and a “total absence of margins in the face of operating hazards”.

The most visible consequence of these practices, the union claims, is the “onset of unreasonable, chronic fatigue” amongst pilots. Worryingly, around 10 per cent of pilots have also reported themselves to be “in a state of depression”.

“The increase in stress among staff is real, fueled by an anxiety-provoking climate created by the management, which spends its time explaining that we are on the edge of the abyss despite our good results,” commented Alexandre Rio, president of the Alter union.

Air France has dismissed the union’s concerns, saying that the safety of its staff and passengers remained its “top priority”. A spokesperson added that as many as 700 pilots would be recruited by December and that working hours for Air France pilots remained below their peers at other carriers.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sets an upper working hours ceiling for pilots of 900 hours per year, but Air France claims, on average, its pilots only work 650 hours per year. In comparison, British and German pilots work as many as 850 hours per year.

The situation could be even worse at Middle East airlines where working hours at calculated in a different way and don’t always account for inflight rest periods. If they were calculated in the same way as in Europe, Air France believes pilots in the Gulf region would be recorded as working up to 1,200 hours per year.

In May, an Air France flight attendant union claimed conditions onboard had become “deplorable“. The SN-PNC union was frustrated by staff shortages that came to a head when the airline asked flight attendants to delay holidays in July and August.

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