EXHAUSTED Irish pilots landing planes after being awake for 22 hours will feel as if they have drank “four pints of lager” and could fall asleep in mid-air, an Oireachtas committee was told today.
Pilots raised serious safety concerns about proposed new European rules forcing them to work longer hours on passenger and crew safety.
The Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) pilots said the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ignored its own scientific evidence over proposed extensions to standby and flight duties.
The association claims that the proposals fail to protect passenger safety and could have serious consequences.
IALPA safety and technical officer Capt Paul Cullen highlighted the risk of pilots falling asleep except for the consumption of coffee if proposed longer hours are introduced.
Pilots could “quite literally fall asleep”, he said.
Having pilots awake for 22 hours on standby and flying duties was akin to having consumed four pints of lager, he said.
Pilots in mid-air did not have motorway rumble strips or motion sensors to alert them if they nodded off, he added.
Capt Cullen also told the Oireachtas Transport Committee today that disruptive schedules interfere with pilots body clock and cause fatigue.
The EASA proposal disregarded unanimous scientific advice on the risks for pilots to operate an aircraft and land after having been awake for more than 22 hours.
IALPA president Capt Evan Cullen said one pilot in Ireland was put through a disciplinary process after he called in sick suffering from fatigue caused by the effect of working spit early and late shifts.
He said as many as 30pc of pilots who suffer from fatigue currently do not report the condition.
“ This is an ongoing issue with us,” he said.
The proposed new regulation will also allow night flights of up to 12 hours while scientists recommend a limit of 10 hours.
Putting crews on open-ended standby for many days without an ability to plan their sleep, and evading stringent rules on flight schedules that disrupt sleep patterns are also major concerns.
The new rules, if implemented, will standardise practice across Europe, replacing all existing national schemes and affect all European pilots and cabin crew.
IALPA said all of the existing scientific research and data has highlighted the dangers associated with pilot fatigue.