WHAT’S THE STORY?
After 18 years of unblemished service with one of the UK’s largest airlines, 16 as a Commander, Captain Mike Simkins was faced with a dilemma. The dilemma is a common one for many pilots in todays’ airline industry. Do they choose career security over passenger and crew safety? There was only one safe and legal choice to be made.
The following are extracts taken directly from the full Tribunal Judgment which is in the public domain. For the avoidance of doubt, the statements and findings of fact contained within are solely attributable to the Judge and members of Tribunal.
“On 6th and 7th May 2014 you refused to work your duty on 7th May in protest at your flight on 6th May 2014 having, in your view, being rostered to exceed the maximum FDP [Flight Duty Period]. You dishonestly stated that the reason for refusing that duty was fatigue. These are being considered as potentially gross misconduct offences as refusals to comply with reasonable management instructions.”
“This raises very serious concerns regarding integrity, and the trust and confidence that the Company must have in its Commanders. With this in mind I find that the appropriate sanction would be dismissal.“
“The claimant referred to the respondent’s fatigue modelling programme and submitted that his effectiveness on 7th May was predicted to go to 70%, the equivalent of around four times the legal limit for drinking for flying.”
The only avenue open to clear a professional reputation built over nearly 30 years was to take legal action. When an airline pilot refuses to commit a criminal act by flying at a level of fatigue equivalent to that of a drunk driver, they are correctly, “just doing their job” in protecting the lives of his/her passengers and fellow crew.
EUROPEAN LAW DICTATES:
“A person must not act as a member of the crew of an aircraft to which this article applies if they know or suspect that they are suffering from or, having regard to the circumstances of the flight to be undertaken, are likely to suffer from, such fatigue as may endanger the safety of the aircraft or of its occupants”.
THE JUDGE CONCLUDED:
“The claimant has satisfied the tribunal that there were circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent in relation to the fatigue issue but not the flight time issue. The tribunal is satisfied that the claimant took appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger by reporting that he was not fit to fly due to fatigue.”
“The claimant has satisfied us that, by raising the flight time issue and the fatigue issue, he brought to his employer’s attention by reasonable means, circumstances connected with his work which he reasonably believed were harmful or potentially harmful to health or safety. The limits on flight time and not flying when fatigued are clearly matters related to safety which, if breached, are potentially harmful to the health and safety of passengers and crew.
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The forthcoming book is based on a career spanning nearly thirty years, racking up over 13,000 flying hours operating all over the world as a Captain on both the Airbus 330 and Boeing 767.
On two previous occasions, serious situations were highlighted to the authorities, both operational failures and policies that, due to first hand experience, were considered to be life threatening.
Sadly, neither were thoroughly investigated, nor had the required action been taken that would have prevented two subsequent separate fatal air-crashes.
In the forthcoming book, the author’s life and experiences are documented, from successfully transferring from musician to aviator, without any legal training, facing the might of a major airline’s legal muscle. Given the unequivocal judgement in his favour, he is hopeful that his employer and the Regulator will take all the appropriate actions required to ensure that never again will any pilot face the dilemma of having to choose career over passenger and crew safety.
Many will assume the Regulator, in this case the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will ensure, in the interests of Flight Safety, strict adherence to the law relating to maximum allowable flight duties and fatigue issues. In the book, given all the facts surrounding the case, the reader will be asked to come to their own conclusion, which will raise the valid question, “Has the relationship between regulator and airlines become far too cosy?”
We are very pleased to note that BALPA (British Airline Pilots Association), my Union, has now launched a “Focus on fatigue” campaign, “to keep the issue on the agenda of pilots, the public, airline regulators and the Government.”