As reported in previous editions of Uplink, zero-hour contracts and bogus self-employment are becoming increasingly commonplace in Europe as a result of atypical employment models, such as pay-to-fly on revenue-earning flights and the use of “contractor” pilots, and crews are feeling the pressures of a shifting aviation industry.
Among the risks caused by atypical employment models are the dangers of transforming our industry’s safety culture into one of fear with sub-standard working conditions, limited or denied access to minimum standards legislation, and reduced security of employment. We have seen in Europe that these factors can make pilots increasingly reluctant to raise operational or other concerns, which in turn risks impacting flight safety.
We are not immune to these atypical models in New Zealand. In this edition of Uplink, you’ll read specifically how atypical employment models are already affecting our general aviation (GA) sector. Many GA pilots are concerned about how “speaking up” will negatively impact future employment opportunities and that can make them reluctant to voice safety concerns and issues such as fatigue. This is an obvious and serious example of how the atypical contracts could have a direct impact on the safety of not only the pilot but the travelling public.
Safety concerns could include reluctance to report experiences of fatigue, depression or other mental health stresses. These issues were highlighted in a recent Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) report in which Wanaka pilot Stephen Anthony Nicholson Combe was considered fit-to-fly when he crashed a Robinson R44 on February 2015. The report raised questions around the robustness of the pilot medical application process. The report said there were too many ways for an aviation document holder to circumvent the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) process that is designed to prevent pilots flying when they are not medically fit to do so.
It was noted that Combe failed to declare the medication he had taken when obtaining his CAA certificates.
NZALPA believes pilots should be trusted to declare conditions that will impact on their ability to do their job. Pilots hold their responsibilities to report truthfully in the highest regard – that's why we are considered as one of the top five most trusted professions globally.
We know from experience that well-supported pilots, employed under standard employment models by operators who promote Just Culture, can be trusted to declare any conditions that will impact on their ability to do their job safely.
Unlike Europe, it’s required by law for medical professionals in New Zealand to report any knowledge of a condition that might deem a pilot unfit to fly.
NZALPA and the Medical and Welfare Committee, who organise the Peer Assistance Network (PAN), are strong advocates of the existing CAA medical declaration process and will continue to emphasise to policy-makers that secure and fair employment contracts help cultivate a culture of safety.
PAN has taken strides in developing a system that ensures pilots and air traffic controllers who need assistance are well taken care of and provided with wrap-around support, including insurance that protects their income, offers them meaningful work in other roles, and ensures they receive the appropriate recovery and supervision. This all encourages pilots and ATCs to self-declare any condition that might impact their performance.
I would like to take this opportunity to assure the NZALPA membership that we are taking measures to ensure that atypical employment models do not become commonplace in New Zealand. We are working with key industry stakeholders, our member councils and advocates so that we not only have contracts that protect our employment rights, but always have a system that respects the safety-centric integrity of our profession and our industry.
I also encourage you to seek out the collegiate support of PAN if you have any queries relating to your mental health and well-being. NZALPA’s PAN is an industry-leading programme that can make all the difference for members requiring support in our changing industry.
Have a great month.