Pilots’ unions have strongly criticised comments by the head of low cost airline Wizz Air after he appeared to call on crew to work despite being tired.
Chief executive of the Hungarian operator, Jozsef Varadi, told employees in a staff briefing they should go “the extra mile” when fatigued so that the airline could avoid cancelling flights.
The European Cockpit Association said his comments showed a “deficient safety culture”, while the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) said that if Varadi really thought pilots should work when fatigued he should consider his position.
Shortages of staff in recent weeks has led Wizz Air, along with many other airlines, to cancel scores of flights.
Wizz Air explained Varadi was addressing all workers not just pilots. He said on Wednesday: “Now that everyone is getting back into work, I understand that fatigue is a potential outcome of the issues but once we are starting stabilising the rosters, we also need to take down the fatigue rate.
“I mean, we cannot run this business when every fifth person of a base reports sickness because the person is fatigued. We are all fatigued but sometimes it is required to take the extra mile.”
Varadi added, “The damage is huge when we are cancelling the flights, it’s huge. It is reputational damage of the brand and it is the other financial damage, transactional damage because we have to pay compensation for that.”
The European Cockpit Association, which has been seeking union recognition at Wizz Air, said the comments encouraged pilots to fly when fatigued. “It’s like handing the car keys to a drunk driver,” the union said, adding it showed a “deficient safety culture” at the airline.
Martin Chalk, general secretary of Balpa, said “fatigue has been shown, in many studies, to have effects on a person’s thinking and decision making similar to alcohol”. He urged Varadi to clarify his comments, adding that if the CEO really believed pilots should fly when fatigued, “he should consider whether he is in the right job”.
When airline pilots are very tired “it can be life or death”, he added and people’s lives should not be squandered, “definitely not for profit.”
European flight time limitations, which are enshrined in EU law, include obligations for member states, airlines and aircrew to ensure safe duty rosters. They also contain flight duty limits per day, week, month and year, in addition to minimum rest per day and month, depending on previous duties. At company level, sound rostering practices and collective labour agreements and fatigue risk management systems are expected to be in place to ensure the limitations are observed.
Wizz Air, whose holding company is registered in Jersey, said in a statement: “Our crew unavailability has been very low, at 4%. In this context, going the extra mile to minimise disruption was discussed.
“What this does not mean is compromising safety. Wizz Air and the airline industry are highly regulated, and safety has, and always will be, our first priority.”
It added: “This clip [as highlighted by the European Cockpit Association] has been edited from an all staff briefing – not pilots only, but also cabin crew and all office employees – on key business updates and current challenges facing aviation.”