In an open letter to the French Ministry of Transport, the pilots’ union for Air France has raised concerns about what it describes as “chronic fatigue” and depression among the airline’s flight crew in the Paris-based company.
The Alter union asserts that Air France Group CEO Benjamin Smith is working toward a personal goal of exceeding financial targets despite concerns that flight safety may be in jeopardy.
Air France, unlike some other European airlines, did not need to reduce its schedule during the busy summer months, but the pilots union claims that this “ambitious recovery program” is still being carried out despite a lack of manpower, particularly among pilots and cabin crew.
The Alter union asserts that as a result, flights are being “built to the limits” (of pan-European safety regulations) and are being run with a decreased crew complement, short rest intervals, and “totally absent margins in the face of operating hazards.”
The organization alleges that the “development of unjustified, chronic fatigue” among pilots is the most obvious effect of these activities. Uncomfortably, 10% or more of pilots have also admitted to being “in a state of depression.”
“The increase in stress among staff is real, fueled by an anxiety-provoking climate created by the management, which spends its time explaining that we are on the edge of the abyss despite our good results,” commented Alexandre Rio, president of the Alter union.
The union’s complaints have been ignored by Air France, which maintains that employee and passenger safety is its “primary priority.” A spokeswoman stated that up to 700 pilots might be hired by December and that Air France pilots continue to work fewer hours than their counterparts at other airlines.
Despite the 900-hour annual maximum work limit for pilots specified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Air France asserts that its pilots actually work only 650 hours annually on average. Pilots in the UK and Germany, in contrast, put in up to 850 hours a year.
A union for Air France flight attendants stated that the circumstances on board had deteriorated to “deplorable” in May. The airline’s request for flight attendants to postpone their July and August vacations caused the SN-PNC union’s frustration with staff shortages to reach a boiling point.