‘Pilots ‘worked to death’: Flydubai whistleblower says fatigue-related crash predicted

fly dubai

a memorial at the Rostov-on-Don airport

I’d just been reading about the 1960 mid-air  collision of two jets over New York  that led to the formation of PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, which membership engaged in a ‘sick-out’ in 1981, leading to Ronald Reagan’s eventually firing all employees who didn’t return to work within his ’48-hour’ time frame.*

An RT Exclusive:

“An accident involving a Flydubai plane was inevitable, a former Flydubai captain told RT on condition of anonymity. He revealed that pilots are forced to work while exhausted, while saying he had been “worked to death” despite complaints. 

Speaking to RT in Doha, the former pilot said Flydubai’s top management was aware of the issue, but had done nothing to resolve it. “When I was still at the company, one of the last things I told management is that there would be an accident because of pilot fatigue,” he said. 

The reason for fatigue is simple – pilots are being repeatedly overworked and not given enough time to sleep between flights.

The whistleblower provided documents showing that pilots, junior pilots in particular, are being assigned multiple flight shifts in a row. He argued that the crew often does not have enough time for sleep readjustment.

“Everybody at the company has these dangerous shifts from day flight to night flight, and then back to a day flight, and then back to a night flight, and it has definitely been a big issue for a long time.”   [snip]

Flydubai referred to pilots who complained as ‘prima donnas’

The problem of fatigue has been well reported within the airline, and most of the pilots foresaw the possibility of a crash due to over-exhaustion. The former pilot cited an internal survey that asked “Do you think there’s going to be a crash?” 

“Over 80% of the pilots that participated … said yes, there will be a crash at Flydubai. And it’s unbelievable, I mean they knew this was coming, they absolutely knew it and of course they will blame it on the pilots.”

The rest is here, including video, which isn’t up on youtube yet.  What a tragic loss of life possibly due to reasons that could have been prevented.

Dubai Aviation Corporation, Wikipedia

‘On its 8th anniversary in 2016, Flydubai Flight 981, a Boeing 737-800 operating from Dubai to Rostov-on-Don, crashed during a second landing attempt in bad weather at Rostov-on-Don Airport. All 55 passengers and 7 crew on board died in the accident. The cause is currently unknown.

Dubai: where the Masters of the Universe will Shelter-in-place in order to have access to (sorta) potable water and bottled air, to escape the ravages of limited nuclear warfare™, and so on.


*The mid-air collision over NYC in 1960

A Federal Aviation Administration inquiry into the crash concluded that it principally resulted from pilot error, but controllers in the Hangar 11 facility handling New York air traffic knew that systemic, rather than individual, flaws in air traffic management lay behind the disaster, and they were distressed by the scale of the FAA’s indifference to such issues. Jack Maher, a Hangar 11 controller who would launch the controllers’ first union drive, concluded that the FAA’s inquiry meant that the agency tasked with managing air traffic operations was, as McCartin writes, “uninterested in reforming” procedures or upgrading equipment. Even more, Maher “was shocked to learn that the FAA’s top officials did not even understand the daily workings of the system over which they presided. The agency’s regional officials seemed to know nothing about Hangar 11’s operations, controllers’ procedures, or equipment…. The system was getting worse, yet the people in charge did not understand it enough to know that anything was wrong, let alone how to fix it. Maher decided then that ‘the emperor had no clothes.’”

Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time.
Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time.
We’ll be flying at an altitude of thirty-nine thousand feet
Captain High at your service….

6 responses to “‘Pilots ‘worked to death’: Flydubai whistleblower says fatigue-related crash predicted

  1. pumpkin time for me; to sleep, perchance to dream..and head into the mystic…in search of a better home world.

  2. i read somewhere…the most hated 3 opening words of any statement. But I read somewhere that local & regional carriers in the US & the folks at Fedex and the like suffer similar fates, until, i guess, for pilots, it gets some better w/the Big Boys, like Braniff & Eastern, I mean Delta. The PATCO gang is universally treated worse than draft animals.

    i hope flydubaianddie is headed for a great big lawsuit that sinks them.

    • it’s not always easy to remember where one read what, is it? but the flavor of the reporting sticks, nonetheless. and i wouldn’t doubt it for a moment.

      well, the dubai government owns flydubai and emirates airlines, so…they’d have a cadré of attorneys to prove other causes than this, and it may just be one of the causes. i’d only ready headlines, i don’t do disasters, really, but weren’t there initial questions about terrorism and ‘out of fuel’ or some such? they seem to have the black box according to the one photo.

      i almost stuck this up this morning, but i wasn’t sure there was much there there, so i went back to cuba. ‘‘Flydubai leak: Outpouring of response from pilots as aviation groups keep mum’, RT.

      ‘draft animals’, oh me.

  3. Nalliah Thayabharan

    10 minutes before Flydubai Flight 981 was cleared for its first attempt to land, S7 Airlines Flight 1159 and Ural Airlines Flight 2758 landed successfully at Rostov-on-Don Airport. 12 minutes after Flydubai Flight 981’s first aborted landing after which it went into a holding pattern, Aeroflot Flight 1166 from Moscow Sheremetyevo made the first of three unsuccessful attempts to land at Rostov-on-Don Airport within the next 35 minutes before diverting to the nearby Krasnodar Airport, landing successfully there.

    Rostov-on-Don is NOT the easiest airport to land at on an ordinary day. Pilots are advised on their charts when landing at Rostov-on-Don Airport to expect severe turbulence and possible windshear in the final moments before touchdown.

    The pilots during the time of the crash were both reportedly suffering from poor scheduling and too few days off, leading to sleep deprivation. One of the two pilots recently turned in his resignation for this reason.

    After the first attempt was aborted, the pilot flew in a holding pattern over Rostov-on-Don Airport, having circled the Rostov-on-Don Airport 10 times before attempting to land for a second time, since landings in non-designated airports are usually not welcomed by the airline management. Holding for 2 hours is ridiculous, if Flydubai policy was dictating that then I’ll never fly with Flydubai. Flydubai should have diverted after maximum 30 mins holding. The pilot could have been tired after circling over Rostov-on-Don Airport for several hours after midnight.

    The pilot has flown at least three different circles trying to reorient to the runway – possibly due to”disorientation”.

    According to ATC communications published online, before the Flydubai Flight 981 was established on the localiser- the instrument which indicates the center line of the runway when pilot is landing using instruments rather than visually, pilot reported to ATC that in case he would need to make another go-around, he would climb to flight level 80 (2,400 m).

    The pilot then reported that he was established on the localiser and continued his descent. At 5.5 km before the runway threshold, when the Flydubai Flight 981 was at 450 m, it started climbing again. ATC records appeared to show that Flydubai Flight 981was going around moments before it crashed. The pilot reported his intention to abort the landing with “Going around, Skydubai 981”. ATC advised Flydubai Flight 981 to switch to another air traffic controller (“Skydubai 981, contact Rostov Radar on 121.2”). Flydubai Flight 981 acknowledged this with “121.2, bye-bye”, which was its final transmission.

    After aborting its second approach, at an altitude of 1,230 m, Flydubai Flight 981 began a rapid descent with a vertical speed reaching more than 105 m/s and crashed and completely disintegrated about 250m short of the runway. The ball of ignited kerosine confirmed that the Flydubai Flight 981 did NOT run out fuel.

    Changing the “pilot flying” (PF) and “pilot monitoring” (PM) roles after the first missed approach has the advantage of the second approach being conducted by a “fresh” set of hands and mitigates the effect of the tunnel vision that often occurs after failed to land at the first attempt.

    Raw data from FR24 shows the aircraft going from a 20 m/s climb to roughly a 30m/s dive within about 5 seconds. Vertical speed of over 100 m/s. If the site data is actually correct, the climb rate seems a little bit high. The pilots completely lost control during the go around and for some reason could NOT not arrest a very-steep descent.

    A Boeing 737-800 “pilot flying” (PF) could inadvertently apply pressure to the control column, trip the auto flight system into CWS (Control Wheel Steering), without noticing and the pilot’s continued pressure on the stick could result in >20 degree dive.

    A manually flown go-around in night / Instrument meteorological conditions and light weight can produce an inner ear acceleration illusion known as somatogravic/vestibular illusion. Longitudinal acceleration can be falsely sensed by a pilot as an extreme pitch-up. The sensation can be overwhelming and cause a pilot to ignore other sensory inputs, forcing the aircraft into a dive. This was a cause factor in
    the Gulf Air Flight 072 – Airbus A320 accident in Bahrain almost 16 years ago,
    the Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771-Airbus A330 crash in Tripoli almost 6 years ago and
    the Tatarstan Airlines Flight 363-Boeing 737-500 crash in Kazan 2 years ago.

    Similarly several US military jets were also lost during the early days of jet aircraft catapult launches from US aircraft carriers. Since instinct to push during the acceleration is uncontrollable, it is very important to have the right hand OFF the “joy-stick” during the launch. More than 12,000 US Navy aircraft were lost including the aircraft lost in combat, but most of them were lost in just attempting to take off and land on an aircraft carrier.

    • welcome to the café, nalliah, and thank you for the long comment. please accept my apologies, though, as my crap eyes have headaches in them by tonight, and i’ll need to read all of this tomorrow. i had seen some follow-up stories at RT, but there are sooooo many stories that keep our heads swiveling, no?

      mr. wd and i keep hearing the donovan song in our minds, though, and for me, the catch phrase is: “fly trans-love airways, gets you there….alive.”

      a bedtime song for you, and for all of us:

      my best to you,

    • even with fresh morning eyes, this is a bit complicated for my understanding. that you’re so conversant with it all makes me guess that you’re a pilot. interesting on the oft-associated inner ear illusion potential, and the fact that they’d been in a holding pattern for so long.

      this account from an apparent flight instructor with a tick tock says that the cypriot pilot had just flown to india, adding to his fatigue. your final paragraph may point to the argument the two pilots had according to the data allegedly leaked to Kommersant (via RT). it seems in this account that both pilots were operating their controls in conflicting maneuvers, if i am grasping it.

      well, it’s all a horrid nightmare for all of the dead and their families. the only possible good that might come of it is for investigations that are NOT govt/flydubai in-house watchdogs make some major changes to their pilots’ rest times.

care to comment? (no registration required)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s