Aviation In Canada

Monday, August 01, 2005

Air Canada's Pilots Time Out

A post in our newpaper today reported that Air Canada had to cancel about 4% of it's flights yesterday with their pilots timing out. Once again, the media runs with a report and makes assumptions without following them up. While the statement from Air Canada wasn't false, it seems to me that there was enough left unsaid that the general public consuming that report will not understand what it's all about.

Airline pilots are not the only ones who "time out". They just happen to do it more quickly than others. Still other groups advance in this list faster than them, but under the Canada Labour Code, I believe most workers are covered to some extent. There is a limit on how much employers can work their employees in a given period and the CLC is but one factor. Many groups have contracts that cover them providing a different limit (less than the CLC) which could be reached earlier. And many of these groups are at least as essential as the passengers would see their pilots being.

ATC, for example, is also governed by it. In a given period, controllers are only allowed to work so many overtime hours before timing out. In a well-staffed unit, this isn't a problem. In a chronically understaffed unit, you start seeing issues. Often pilots and aircraft operators are the only ones who end up knowing about it. They will get notice, often short notice since the understaffing for a particular shift or time period is short notice, or it's just not covered ahead of time when the situation is known for whatever reason. Things like delays at destination, restrictions on altitudes allowed by certain flights or on certain routes. These are often dictated by which "specialty" is affected by the staffing conditions, and therefore which piece of airspace is affected by the staffing. These will often cost airlines and other operators extra in fuel, and sometimes even extra time in flight, which could add up to help cost in pilot's flight times that is the title of this particular post.