Qantas Airways’ pilots union has warned of looming risks to flight safety – from crew fatigue to looser landing rules – as the rebound in travel demand stretches an industry still fragile from the pandemic.
With domestic travel restrictions eased, passenger demand in Australia exceeds 2019 levels and Qantas and its rival Virgin Australia are ordering new planes for a post-COVID era. But there are concerns some proposals to handle the faster-than-expected recovery may be too much for a global workforce decimated by layoffs and bereft of its most experienced pilots.
A proposal by Brisbane Airport, for example, to breach international protocol and allow planes to land with stronger tailwinds in order to accommodate more air traffic raises the chance of a mistake, particularly by foreign airline crew, said Tony Lucas, president of Qantas union, the Australian & International Pilots Association. Normal practice is to take off and land against the wind. The union represents more than 7100 commercial pilots.
Lucas, a Qantas A330 captain who joined the airline in 1995, said he’s also concerned that long-range Airbus SE A321XLR jets, due to arrive at the airline in late 2024, will compromise safety by lacking proper rest areas for pilots on long Asian routes .
Aviation’s recovery from its worst-ever crisis is highlighting stress points on infrastructure and workers that have essentially laid fallow for two years. Worldwide, airports and airlines that lost thousands of staff have been swamped by returning passengers, and some pilots are just getting used to being back at the controls.
Airservices Australia, which manages the domestic airspace, and Brisbane Airport last month proposed increasing the allowable tailwind for landings and takeoffs on its parallel runways to 7 knots (13 kilometers per hour) from 5 knots. The change aims to let more flights arrive and depart over the ocean rather than the city’s suburbs. Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment on the proposal.
‘Our major concern is it decreases our safety margins. If something else happens, I’m running rapidly out of options. ‘
Australian & amp; International Pilots Association President and Qantas pilot Tony Lucas
Approaching with a wind coming from behind the plane tends to increase landing speed, leaving pilots with less time and space to handle unexpected events. “Our major concern is it decreases our safety margins,” Lucas said. “If something else happens, I’m running rapidly out of options.”
Accepting a higher threshold for tailwinds also normalizes the concept of landing with the wind, making it more likely the change may be introduced in international gateway Sydney, said Lucas. Ultimately, the union could instruct pilots not to land with a tailwind of more than 5 knots, he said.