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Commanders’ Discretion: probably the most abused rule in today’s aviation industry

Captains’ discretion should not be a requirement or obligation, nor should it be routinely relied on by operations. It is a choice that should not be influenced, and the crew must not be coerced into acceptance.

Maximum Flight Duty Period (FDP) is strictly outlined in ORO.FTL and any European airline Operating Manuals.

  • “Commander’s discretion under ORO.FTL.205(f) “may be used to modify the limits on the maximum daily FDP (basic or with an extension due to in-flight rest), duty, and rest periods in the case of unforeseen circumstances in flight operations…”
  • Unexpected conditions’ “are events that could not reasonably have been predicted and accommodated…”
  • Commanders are required to undergo appropriate training on the use of commander’s discretion and must be able to “recognize the symptoms of fatigue and to evaluate the risks associated with their own mental and physical state and that of the whole crew”.
  • “Operators should ensure that sufficient margins are included in schedule design so that commanders are not expected to exercise discretion as a matter of routine”.

The reason for accepting or denying a captain’s discretion should rest entirely on the crew member’s self-assessment and should not be questioned in any way, shape, or form by the Airline.

Intimidation, reprimand, or urging to resign could all be considered undue duress which undermines these principles and compromises the safety of the public and the health and well-being of crew members. 

As flight crew members, we have personally seen this “push on” culture firsthand. The term used by colleagues to describe the act of putting the financial interests of the airline first was “pro-company”. This was done by extending duties, working from days off, not calling fatigued, and not calling in sick. FPU Romania has received reports of cabin crew members reprimanded and shamed by managers in different European airlines for calling in sick or not extending duties.

Thus, we have asked that EASA, as the relevant European aviation authority, conduct a thorough investigation and answer the following questions:

  • Can operators influence or coerce crew members into accepting FDP extensions under the captain’s discretion and can they question or punish those decisions?
  • Is extending an FDP under the captain’s discretion a choice made solely by the commander or is each individual flight crew member able to make his/her own personal assessment?
  • Are the airlines breaking any aviation regulations or provisions of their operating manuals by questioning and/or punishing crew members for not extending their duty?
  • What actions is EASA planning on undertaking against such operators to prevent future fatigue/duty-related incidents due to management culture?

Read more FPU Romania: Reporting for duty

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