A Qantas Airways memo says the 18-month disruption to the airline’s flight operations has resulted in some of the carrier’s experienced pilots becoming more prone to making mistakes.

The internal memo, leaked to The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, says having pilots grounded for up to 18 months because of the pandemic has “created a situation where expert pilots have lost recency and experienced a subsequent reduction in cognitive capacity”.

“Combined with reduced flying across the network, we recognise a flow on effect for flight crew’s focus and familiarity with the operation,” says the memo which quotes senior Qantas management personnel in charge of flight operations.

“Routine items that used to be completed with a minimum of effort now occupy more time and divert attention away from flying the aircraft,” it adds.

The memo then gives examples where experienced Qantas pilots – who recently returned to work after long stints out of work – have made mistakes in the cockpit.

These include: “commencing take-off with park brake set” and “misidentification of altitude as airspeed”.

The memo also says there have been “continued unstable approaches” and “crew looking back at the event and not realising that they were overloaded or had lost situational awareness”. In the event of an unstable approach, pilots are normally advised to do a go-around, as unstable approaches can lead to accidents.

Ron Bartsch, chairman of international aviation consultancy AvLaw Consulting and a former head of safety for Qantas Airways, says a challenge airlines face, is that many pilots returning to work are returning at the same time leading to a shortage of simulator training capacity.

Airline personnel in charge of pilot training also face ongoing uncertainty, which makes it hard to plan training programs.

He says an airline like Qantas may plan to return the Airbus A380 to service for the Hong Kong route, but then Hong Kong suddenly restricts inbound flights. Then there is no longer a need to do recency training for so many of the airline’s A380 pilots even though it was already planned, he adds.

Smart Aviation Asia Pacific quoted Bartsch last September warning that furloughed pilots returning to work may pose a safety risk, because the pilots’ flying skills may no longer be up to speed with what their expectations are.

Feature picture, from Qantas, shows artists’ impression of a Qantas A380 flying over Sydney Harbour.

Related article: Former Qantas Safety Chief Warns That Complacency Among Furloughed Pilots Returning To Work Is A Safety Risk (27 September 2021).