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Three in four pilots report elevated stress levels: survey

written by Hannah Dowling | August 3, 2022

Victor Pody shot this special Qantas 787-9, VH-ZNJ msn 7C806D, delivered in November 2019 to celebrate the airline’s centenary.

Just over 75 per cent of commercial airline pilots reported elevated stress levels during the pandemic and the aftermath, according to a new survey released by the University of South Australia.

The survey, which collected data from 49 commercial pilots across the Asia Pacific, Europe and North America, found 75.5 per cent reported being stressed about the uncertainty of their future career.

Meanwhile, anti-social working hours and a “divergence in values” between pilots and management were also noted as stressors for flight crew in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, alongside flight schedule disruption.

The study found that long-haul pilots in particular reported the highest levels of stress, as their jobs were the most impacted by the pandemic. Quarantine restrictions and border closures keeping them apart from family were two of the key drivers for this, the report says.

According to UniSA Senior Lecturer in Aviation, Dr Silvia Pignata, pilots have historically been reluctant to admit or discuss their stress levels, largely due to concerns around retaining their medical certification to fly.

“The issue of work stress has been neglected by the aviation industry, even before the pandemic,” Dr Pignata says.

“Due to consumer demand for travel, airlines strive to keep their fleet in the air for as long as possible. Higher turnover rates mean more flight legs, increased workloads and higher stress levels for pilots.

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“The uncertainty around the industry and conflicts with management over the past two years has just added to their stress.”

According to the researchers, the results of the survey should be a “wake-up call” to businesses across the industry to take stress and mental wellbeing seriously, and better support pilots to mitigate their stress.

It comes as pilots around the country remain at odds with management in recent enterprise agreement negotiations.

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In June, the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) claimed that Qantas had threatened to outsource roles if its members didn’t agree to a new enterprise agreement.

The deal, which was eventually accepted, was required so that pilots could transition from the airline’s 737s to its upcoming new fleet of Airbus A321XLRs. Qantas strongly denies the accusation.

“While it is pleasing to see that mainline pilots have secured flying the first A321s, it is important to acknowledge the looming threat of outsourcing that hung over this vote,” said Captain Tony Lucas, president of the AIPA.

Around the same time, Rex’s Saab 340 pilots voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of taking industrial action against the airline, following a near four-year-long disagreement over pay and conditions.

The Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) said the action would start from Tuesday 28 June and include a ban on loading extra fuel prior to flights and not wearing uniforms.

Rex had previously told Australian Aviation the actions of the union were “beyond belief” and added its latest offer was “substantially better” than one accepted by the union on behalf of QantasLink pilots in 2021.

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