Pilots win first legal challenge to fatigue rules


The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) have launched legal action against the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) over new rules governing the length of flights and minimum rest requirements for pilots and crew.

In February CASA approved a new Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) for Qantas which potentially greatly expands flight times. Pilots were not consulted even though AIPA had already advised CASA of a number of deficiencies in the previous rules. Pilots had also raised concerns about elevated fatigue risks.

Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) were developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in consultation with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) representing airlines and the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA) representing pilots.

AIPA Vice President (Safety and Technical) Captain Shane Loney said the clear intent of that collaboration was for regulators, airlines and pilots to work together to achieve the best fatigue safety outcomes to protect the flying public.

“In refusing to engage with AIPA, the regulator, CASA has ignored international conventions and denied itself necessary information to allow a fully informed decision on fatigue,” Captain Loney said.

“It beggars belief that pilots could be ignored on this vital safety issue,” he said.

AIPA believes that by choosing not to consult pilots, CASA has denied pilots procedural fairness and has failed to meet CASA’s own requirement that an FRMS be at least as safe as the new rules (modernised in 2013 and 2019) that would otherwise apply.

“Contrary to ICAO guidance and their own policy, CASA allowed Qantas to retain the outdated rules developed last century that CASA itself deems not fit for purpose for other operators.”

“CASA decisions on FRMS approval are not made public and CASA is fighting hard to avoid any scrutiny by the public or other aviation operators.

“AIPA President Mark Sedgwick said: “As the safety regulator, CASA’s prime responsibility must always be to ensuring aviation safety is paramount in its decisions and not to be excessively swayed by commercial interests.”

AIPA made application for review in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) that CASA erred in approving the Qantas FRMS. CASA launched and lost a tribunal proceeding that the AAT did not have jurisdiction to review CASA’s decision.

Rather than argue the case on its merits in the AAT, CASA has appealed that decision.

CASA argues that pilots should have no say, despite the FRMS controlling how long they can fly and how little rest they must be provided.

The matter now heads to the Federal Court in a further attempt to have the aviation regulator uphold the proper standards required of a government agency acting in the public interest.

“We understand better than anyone that the aviation industry is in turmoil after COVID,” Captain Loney said.

“Hundreds of our members are out of work but now is not the time to drop the ball on safety issues.”

“If decisions are made on proper safety grounds, we believe it is in the interests of everyone in aviation, and the broader community, for those decisions to be transparent.”

“Australian pilots have a proud history of maintaining the world’s safest airline industry and we intend to keep it that way.”

/Public Release.