Sleeping pilots and other flight safety concerns highlighted in new TV documentary

‘Omerta above the clouds’ is a documentary exposing flight safety concerns amongst pilots and cabin crew working for European airlines.

The documentary released by Dutch broadcast organisation BNNVARA, paints a disturbing picture of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and its political overseer, the EU Commission, accusing them of failing to address safety concerns due to being unduly influenced by economic pressures from industry.

The documentary also accuses EASA of holding a dismissive attitude towards scientific studies that have demonstrated that self-employed pilots struggle to address airline instructions that conflict with their own safety or liability concerns.

European Cockpit Association (ECA) President Captain Otjan de Bruijn, who appears in the documentary, says: “Scientific studies from reputable institutions like the London School of Economics, Ghent University (Belgium), and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, consistently highlighting the impact of job insecurity on flight safety, have been unjustly dismissed. EASA’s refusal to acknowledge these findings raises serious questions about its commitment to safety.”

The documentary reveals a current situation whereby non-traditional employment practices compromise safety decision-making in European cockpits.

Pilots employed in atypical ways (often self-employed or on temporary contracts through employment agencies) have been found less likely to voice safety concerns, are more prone to taking risks, will fly while sick and fatigued, and lack confidence in safety reporting processes.

“Unfortunately, I believe, we can speak about a widespread culture of fear and intimidation within European aviation,” says ECA Deputy Secretary General Ignacio Plaza. “A few outspoken industry leaders have created this culture and EASA has been the silent partner enabling it with its passive attitude towards safety concerns. Pilots don’t report or speak up, safety issues remain hidden. Of those who dare, many face disciplinary measures and retaliation. All this can end very badly one day because the entire aviation safety chain is simply broken.”

The documentary also calls into question the role of the EU Commission. Despite repeated pleas and studies highlighting urgent issues, the documentary asserts that the Commission has failed to address the problem of bogus self-employment in aviation, leaving pilots and cabin crew vulnerable.

The documentary highlights the recent rejection of revising the Air Services Regulation (Regulation 1008/2008), suggesting that this underscores the Commission’s apathy towards aircrew concerns in general. The documentary adds that the Commission is also failing in ensuring that EASA is independent from the commercial interests of the airline industry.

“The Commissioner for Transport’s absence in the documentary speaks volumes, reflecting her typical approach to aviation issues throughout her mandate,” says Otjan de Bruijn. “As her mandate concludes soon, urgent attention is needed to address the aviation industry’s persistent challenges. It is clear that EASA and the European Commission must do some serious soul searching and fulfil their responsibilities, ensuring passengers’ safety without compromise.”

Airing in October 2023, the documentary includes interviews with decision-makers, scientists, airlines, pilots, cabin crew, and pilot and cabin crew associations, unveiling a comprehensive view of the industry’s current state. It explores the social challenges persisting within the cockpit and cabin.

The film critically examines efforts to combat these issues, raising questions about social misconduct eradication and safety oversight in European airspace. ‘Omerta above the clouds’ is available to watch on YouTube.

Author: FTN Editor

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