Thomas Cook Airlines has apologised to one of its pilots who was disciplined and suspended for refusing to fly while fatigued, after an Employment Tribunal held in Manchester found in his favour.
The Captain Mike Simkins told the employment tribunal earlier this year that he opted not to fly a Boeing 767, with over 200 passengers, after three 'extremely early starts in a row', including one 18-hour day and what would have been a 19-hour day to follow.
His employers suspended Captn. Simkins for six months and he was threatened with dismissal, even though he claimed Thomas Cook's own 'fatigue monitoring software' showed that because of the run of duties he'd completed, if he had flown his rostered flight, he would have landed with a predicted performance loss that would have been similar to being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying.
The employment tribunal found unanimously in Simkins' favour.
In a statement, Thomas Cook Airlines said: "Safety is our highest priority at Thomas Cook. We have robust processes to ensure all the legal limits on flying time are met and we'd like to be clear that at no point was Captain Simkins expected to fly while fatigued.
"However there was a disagreement between him and his managers about his conduct which led to the tribunal proceedings. We have accepted the findings and apologised to him for the hurt and distress that was caused."
Julian Bray Aviation Security expert commenting live on BBCRadio5Live said: "Pilots and airline managements everywhere should commend Captain Simkins, and study in detail the 44 page reserved judgment (case number 2400364/17), this important document is bound to form the basis of future cases of this kind, and for the first time addresses the very real problem of pilot fatigue in great detail. Interestingly, the tribunal did NOT consider heath and safety issues in reaching its 44 page conclusion."
Dr Rob Hunter, head of flight safety at the British Airline Pilot's Association, said: "Not only is it reasonable to refuse to fly when fatigued, it is absolutely necessary. In fact, the law states that a pilot must not operate when fatigued, or likely to become fatigued. Captain Simkins should have been praised by Thomas Cook for reporting his fatigued state as required by law, not disciplined.
"Fatigue is a major threat to flight safety and a good, open safety culture is vital in ensuring that pilots and other staff members feel able to report fatigued and not put lives at stake."
BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton added: "Captain Simkins should be commended for taking this matter up and seeing it through to its conclusion.
"I am also pleased that BALPA helped fund Captain Simkins' legal battles, and provided substantial expert and staff support.
"Tackling fatigue remains BALPA's number one flight safety priority and we will continue to work with airlines to do that where we can, and challenge them using any means necessary when we can't."
Simkins has accepted Thomas Cook's apology, and is still flying with the airline, the operations manager involved has since left the company for pastures new...
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