Southwest Airlines Pilots Association concerned over Pilots fatigue

With travel picking up nearly 90% of pre-pandemic numbers, officials with the Southwest Airlines Pilot’s Association said their pilots are concerned over fatigue.

In an open letter to Southwest executives, the union stated that fatigue is a concern that it would like to be addressed.

“April is already setting fatigue records. Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat,” the letter stated.

Click here to read the full SWAPA letter link.

Union officials cite poor scheduling, a staffing shortage and logistics as reasons for the concern stating in part:

“Fatigue numbers have been climbing exponentially since last summer with no meaningful attempts by management to mitigate them. A return to normal flying capacity in June 2021

(using comparative data from 2017-2019 and excluding 2020 due to COVID) saw more than a 200% increase in fatigue rates. The situation only grew worse from there, with rates up 350% in

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August and September and over 600% in October. Management took a “wait and hope” approach, but reality struck with January and February rates doubling and March hitting another staggering 330% increase. April is already setting fatigue records.

Southwest officials say its seen “a significant and steady decline” in pilots calling in fatigued after scheduling changes made in November and that the March increase was expected due to weather stating to KPRC:

Since implementing our schedule revisions last November, we’ve seen a significant and steady decline in the number of Pilots calling in fatigued. Regarding the March increase referenced, we did have monthly averages in 2019 that show as low as 10 Pilots calling in fatigued per 10,000 duty periods and during March 2022, the average reached around 60 per 10,000 duty periods. The increase is expected, as it’s common to experience an elevated level of fatigue calls during irregular operations and in March, the industry faced weather and airspace delays that resulted in disruptions across the network. The March increase in Pilot fatigue calls is a result of the system working as designed, allowing Crew to determine if they are too fatigued to fly.

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According to our data, 2022 ASAP reports connected to Crew Fatigue are showing positive trends with our rates returning to favorable 2019 levels. We have systems in place that do not allow us to schedule Crew without their required 10 hours of rest; if there are instances where Pilots were unable to obtain eight hours of sleep within that 10-hour window, we will review those circumstances and respond. We, along with the industry, continue our progress toward returning our operation back to pre-pandemic service and staffing levels, which will foster improvements in our ability to handle unexpected operational disruptions, minimizing the impact on Employees and Customers. Southwest has a Culture of Safety that proactively manages risks and encourages all Employees to report any concerns. We keep operating a Safe airline at the forefront of everything we do and will continue to partner with SWAPA as we monitor our own internal controls, systems, and procedures to maintain our commitment t o Safety.”

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Texas Southern University’s Director of Aviation, Dr. Terence Fontaine, an experienced pilot and instructor weighed in.

“Pilot Fatigue is something we all worry about when it comes to aviation safety. So it is something very real that needs to be addressed,” Fontaine said.

But he maintains pilots are well-trained and re-certified often. He is confident flying is safe.

“If not addressed, it can be…’can’ be…’can’ being a key word–a risk,” Fontaine said. “I believe the airlines and the pilots are working to ensure that it’s not becoming a risk factor. That’s a reason why it’s important for both to continue to discuss issues that are relevant.”

Fontaine said that the airline industry faces challenges related to a shortage in pilots.

“They’re having to adhere to these safety policies by the FAA and still run an airline and make sure that their pilot is in the cockpit when flights are schedule–very difficult to do that if you’re trying to ensure…  at the beginning of the month pilots can work a little bit of overtime, but it sets up a real problem at the end of the month when you need to fill those voids,” Fontaine explained. TSU said it is working to help put out more well-trained pilots into the industry through TSU’s Aviation Program. “We know one thing: pilots are needed. That’s why we’re spending our days here at Texas Southern, training new pilots to take those positions,” Fontaine said.

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