Monday, March 20, 2006


This blog is the result of Mr. Vijendra Rao’s questions and comments on my previous article titled “Air Mess” coinciding with today’s NDTV “Exclusive” report on Air India pilots suffering from fatigue.

Today, the 20th of March 2006 morning news edition of NDTV, and perhaps the report would be repeated all day, is an NDTV “Exclusive” about Pilot Fatigue issues at Air India. Again, the report is anchored by Vishnu Som (also mentioned by Mr. Rao in his reply comment on my “Air Mess” blog).

The report suggests that Air India pilots, especially those flying the overseas North American sector such as London-New York, are a fatigued lot. The pilots are reportedly so tired and “slightly sleepy”. (A term used by the news reader and not Vishnu Som as an introduction to the “Exclusive” and by the way, I have never heard this term before) Can anyone tell me what it means to be slightly sleepy and how long can a person remain in that state? Silly me, I thought people are either awake or asleep or maybe nodding off.

The report then shows a person, reported to be the pilot on a Boeing 747 making a statement (with his face hidden and voice distorted to hide his identity) that pilots have trouble keeping awake after 9 hours of flying. Vishnu Som also goes on to mention that the Air India flight to New York terminates at 4 PM and the same crew has to report to fly back the next day at 7:30 PM and Vishnu says there is a rest gap “barely” 24 hours. It does not take a rocket scientist to do the math and realize that the gap is actually more than 24 hours.

OK now we come to the “pilot” shown in the report. The normal viewer can see a uniformed guy sitting there and may assume that this is the guy that is the pilot in command of the airplane, but another pilot viewing this program, such as yours truly, can see that the uniformed chap has only three stripes on his shirt as opposed to four stripes for a Captain who is the Aircraft commander. The three stripes tells me that he is co-pilot. He is the chap that helps the commander fly the airplane (although most of the trip the airplane is on autopilot!) and has the least work load. It is not like he is lifting weights for 9 hours to be fatigued. Oh, perhaps the First Officer (Co-pilot) is speaking on behalf of a captain who does not want to say anything or maybe NDTV could not catch hold of the Captain or they thought that all viewers would be fooled by mentioning the chap as the “pilot” who flies the airplane and no one would have noticed the number of stripes on his shirt epaulets!

Pilot fatigue is a dangerous issue and this issue has been addressed by the Civil Aviation Authorities around the World by making the pilot workload less. Air India has the same standard that is followed by any major Airline in the World. What the report does not mention is that most pilots actually fly less than 100 hours every month (at a very high point and because of the restrictions due to the rules) and Air India pilots perhaps average half that – in a whole month! That means that the pilots fly for only a fraction of the time every month and get plenty of rest much like my cats do (my cats don’t fly, they only rest!). They do this for a princely salary compared to any other profession around.

According to the FDTL rules (Flight Duty Time Limitations), these guys get plenty of rest time and the issue is to find out whether violations of this rule is taking place at Air India or not. NDTV report also gives the Air India side of the story saying that no violations of the FDTL rules are taking place and the report does not accuse the Airline of a violation either. So, what is the point of this alarmist, sensationalized report? Is this a belated response to CNN-IBN’s report “Fear in the Sky”? Or that they have nothing better to report?

Anybody’s guess on this one!


Athul said...

hi sir ,
it would b of great help if u could write about pilots fatigue and jet lag , and how they affects the performance of the pilots .
what can b done to avoid it and details which otherwise common people may not know regarding the problems faced by jet lag and its effects on pilots .

lookig forward to read more of ur writings


Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks for your querry. Pilot fatigue is actually nothing but tiredness. Pilots often work in stressful environments, such as the cockpit, where crucial decisions may have to be made from time to time. In a modern day airliner cockpit, the pilot workload has been reduced by automation and redundant systems.

However, the phychological pressures, anticipating something going wrong and planning for tackling in-flight emergencies etc increases the mental tiredness of the pilot. The mental pressures start from the time of the take off until the airplane lands and the longer the duration of the flight, the more mental workout happens, resulting in fatigue. It is more mental than physical exhaustion. That is why, the Civil Aviation Authorities provide rules that say that a pilot is allowed to fly only 10 hours in a 24 hour period and then he has to be provided compulsory resting time before undertaking further operations.

Civil Aviation rules mention weekly flight time limitations, monthly flight time limitations and yearly flight time limitations that is enforced on Airline pilots, to prevent fatigue. To give an example, a pilot is allowed only 1000 hours of flying a year, maximum. The Airlines average only about half of this most of the time. If a pilot flies the maximum weekly, monthly and yearly limit, he/she will automatically be rested for the remaining days. For a loose example, if a pilot has completed 1000 hours in 10 months or so, he will be rested for the remaining two full months in the year with full pay and benefits. Of course, this does not happen because Airline pilots almost never have so much flying, they may average a little more than half of the number mentioned above. In other words, they do get plenty of rest and their duty is well-spaced. NDTV mentions that this is often not being followed at Air India.

Coming to Jet Lag. This is a form of physical exhaustion based on the "body clock" of the person travelling across many time zones. The body clock is designed for a regular rhythm of daylight and darkness, so it's thrown out of sync when it experiences daylight and darkness at the 'wrong' times in a new time zone.

However, this is not universal, many people do not suffer from any jet lag at all. Some experience disorientation for a few days and some for weeks! There are many touted ways of avoiding this problem. On board the Aircraft which is flying through many time zones, eating at the right time, managing to sleep at the right time and preventing dehydration by drinking water and avoiding alchohol in-flight will all help. I am talking mainly about the passengers here. International pilots are accustomed to going through several time zones and nothing happens to their systems even if they don't eat and sleep on the plane (they better not sleep while flying!)When itravel as a passenger, I do all of what i mention above plus set my watch to the time at my destination. I have never had jet lag as a passenger either, even before I became a pilot. When I am flying as a pilot across several times zones as I have done before, there is enough work and distractions for us to avoid thinking about the "body clock" and time concept in general. I don't know if this also helps because no one has been able to say why some people get jet lag, mildly, severely and why some don't get it at all.

I know that some of the readers of my blog have travelled Internationally many times and it would be nice to know of their experiences with jet lag, whether they get it and how theyhave managed to overcome this problem and hope we can get some readers to tell us how long it has taken them on an average, to recover from jet lag.

Nikhil said...

If I am right, from my readings, pilots flying these international routes are well trained in coping with fatigue and dealing with jet-lag (if they encounter it, which is rare for pilots with such vast experience).

But your mentioning about the number of hours Indian pilots fly was a revelation to me! And so was the ATC situation you wrote about in your last post! High time something concrete happened on that front!

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

To be fair Nikhil, no Airline in the World that I know of, have their pilot flying max hours, like 100 hours a month. Having said that, the best way to get maximum productivity and hence keep costs under control for a Low Cost Carrier, is to roster the pilots to fly maximum. Some LCC's abroad roster pilots to above 80 hours a month. Airlines like Air Deccan and others who operate on the LCC model (or at least part of the model) need to get better productivity from their pilots.

See, India Airlines pilots in the "good old days" (I mean when they enjoyed monopoly)almost never flew more than 40 - 45 hours a month! They started cribbing when they started flying more and demanded flying allowance and got that as well. Air India was no better. Pilot jobs were hard to get but once you made it, you were set for life.

Now pilots are at a premium because of the shortage in the market and they are paid very well. Their relcutance to put in max hours and help the Airline is puzzling. I am a professional pilot too, as you know, and my statements may perhaps raise the hackles of those pilots who want to have their cake and eat it too.

regarding your comment on International pilots, yes, they know better to cope with long flights and the effects of fatigue. Regarding the ATC situation and Indian airspace situation, that really needs to be addressed in urgency as you have rightly mentioned. In fact, there was a near miss reported in Times of India and only the TCAS system installed in both Aircraft avoided collission. I put in a comment on this near miss, just now, on my last blog "Air Mess".

Athul said...

thank u captain , it was very informative to hear about the fatigue and time lag .

Vijendra Rao said...

Dear Captain,
Your comments elsewhere that bloggers on this side of the Chamundi Hills are tardy did not bring me out of my shell. (It was not targetted at any individual, I know, but I felt indicted). However, this blog on "Air India and NDTV" has, mainly because it has given me a scarcely-needed pretext to go hammer and tongs at the media. You have candidly spoken about your fellow-pilots. So have I against my fraternity, but never so riskily as I have set out to do now. Thanks for providing the trigger.
"Exclusive" is what any newspaper/TV or radio channel/portal carries by way of a news story with their competitors not having gained access to it. So, the NDTV report under scrutiny was their exclusive for today.
Exclusive stories are normally the result of a reporter/correspondent gaining access to privileged information. It is desired that exclusive reports are necessarily explosive, though the speeds that news delivery systems have acquired due to technology have cut down the span of exclusivity such reports enjoy. This is just for starters; I will delve into it in due course.
It is the exclusives that earn focus and fame to a journalist. In the print (and new media, in certain cases), the journalist is known by his byline, given to him only for special reports. In my 20 years of journalism, I have not seen one journalist who does not hanker for credit. It is somewhat acceptable as it is on the number of his bylines that his worth is decided in the media market, where job-hopping is none too infrequent. What is however regrettable is when journalists go out of their way to get credit for their stories. What Clement Attlee famously remarked - once a person gets used to seeing his name in print he will go any length to see his name in print again and again -fits journalists like a glove. There is a systematic attempt to make not only the reader into believing that what he has written is out of the ordinary, but also his own editorial department. It is a craft which every reporter masters within no time of joining the profession. In fact, there is not much regard for the reader - as he does not decide whether the journalist must get credit for his story; it is the desk that decides whether a story is exclusive. The reporter does every conceivable thing to mislead the desk into believing that he has put in special effort to get his report. Time and again, one will find that even press releases that land in newspaper offices as a matter of routine are sought to be given the colour of a special report by byline-hungry reporters.
It is this tendency amongst journalists that Capt. Murthy has highlighted. Only experts on each subject - like Capt. Murthy, for instance, in the present instant -would know how hilarious are most of the reports that the newspapers and channels routinely claim as exclusive to their own readers/viewers.
Incidentally, scarcely hours after President George's departure after his recent visit to India, Barkha Dutt was waxing eloquent on her exclusive on how India actually clinched the nuclear issue with the US. Bored with the trumpeter, I switched channels to find that CNN-IBN had laid its hands on the same issue, too. It did not appear to be NDTV's exclusive, but there was no stopping the euphoria of Barkha. (To get the correct spelling for her name, I google-searched, only to find that at the very top of the Google's opening page against the search is Barkha Dutt. Media critic Amita Malik says, in her column in PIONEER: ' ...Indeed, there are two professional differences in the media coverage of the attack on the temple which stood out. First in the Hindi heartland it was the Hindi channels which scored. With Rajdeep Sardesai and very long winded Barkha Dutt pontificating from Delhi, it is the Hindi channels with experienced reporters on the spot who were the first with reports. And they spoke the elegant Hindi or Urdu of the region, which is very different from AIR's contrived sanrkritised one which no one speaks or understands. In fact, so far removed from reality was even an experienced reporter like Barka Dutt, who did not seem aware of speaking to him in Punjabi Hindi on an english channel. Dutt, it seemed was not aware that the mahant of the temple, Dr Mishra, was a famous professor of science, who had won the Magsaysay award because of his efforts to save the Ganga. He had also figured on the cover page of the TIME magazine and the President Bill Clinton had been gretly immpressed by his efforts as an environmentalists had specially invited to Delhi for a discussion.

The moral of the story is that the political pundits of the media in Delhi should realise that those on the spot are far more competent to cover such events and should be given the time the pundits waste in Delhi....
'The women anchors of the relatively new CNN IBN channel. who have some vestiges of professionalism when they have come from NDTV or CNN, the rest are mostly amateurs whom the channel is desperately trying to build up as stars. Perhaps the only real professional amongst the m who makes her points without histrionics, waving of arms and sudden bursts of speed, is Suhashini Haidar....'

Vijendra Rao

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thank you for your piece on "exclusives" and sensationalised journalism. Regarding my comment elsewhere about blogging, it was nothing personal at all as you have correctly assumed and I apologise for any snafu on my part.

Your detailed comment above is well appreciated and should belong on your blog page as well. I am honoured to get a detailed comment regarding your observation on the Indian media, TV in particular and it certainly pertains to my blog about NDTV. I am sure that there are enough instances on TV and the way news is presented these days, that would make you laugh, since you are in the same field and can see through all the rubbish. It would be good to see someone like you shaking up the system and taking on your own fraternity.

I know that I have ruffled a few feathers in the pilot community with my acidic comments but again it is nothing personal and there are many of my tribe who support me.

I used to have pilots work for me previously, even recently in the Maldives, and who supported me to the maximum, flew their maximum alloted hours and never complained. My pilots were also happy to co-operate, even during off-duty time to interact with the mechanics and engineers and would never write up a technical snag without a discussion with the technical team and helping solve the problem. I selected and hired these pilots and engineers myself and they were just great. I kow several real nice pilots who'd fly the max and do a good job about it and who are today in Jet, Indian, Kingfisher and Deccan.

Having said that, my comments are based from knowing and interacting with many other pilots, some of them have been plain sissy in their complaints and whining about the work load. I joined aviation and became a pilot because I enjoyed being one. Some of them seem to not want to fly as much and still take home a great salary. That's puzzling to me.

Most pilots I know would love every opportunity to fly, especially those who are co-pilots and need to gain experience by flying more so that onme day they can be captains. Thats why cry babies like the one they presented on NDTV get my acidic comments because that crybaby in question was a co-pilot and not "the pilot" of the Boeing 747 as the Vishnu Som report suggested.

Unless rules are being flouted by Air India, the co-pilot featured on NDTV would be better served if he just shut his mouth and flew the max allowed as per FDTL.

Vijendra Rao said...

I have always believed that a journalist's first loyalty is to the reader, not even to his employer. It is because I know that it is an ideal, I have stayed away from media organisations. A few friends in journalism say that I must get back to mainstream journalism because, according to them, journalism is not as bad as I feel it is. Of course, they are well meaning friends, it is just not my idea to paint everybody with the same brush.
Reader interest, unfortunately, is often the first casualty at the hands of irresponsible journalists and their proprietors. Nowhere has this been more glaringly brought out than in the Veerappan saga. The fact that Veerappan never read those papers which carried hilarious accounts of the moster gave them a free hand to write anything they wanted without the slightest fear of being contradicted, much less disproved.
A couple of us reporters were haranguing a minister at a press conference. Another reporter, who had kept quiet all along, now raised a question to which the minister said in a raised tone: "You keep quiet. Shall I start exposing you, now?" It was at this stage that the press conference drew to an end. The then president of the Reporters' Guild places a request on me to carry a brief item saying that he has condemned the minister for 'issuing a threat to the reporter'. I countered him saying that, well, it was no threat. In fact, the reporter, in keeping quiet, had lent credence to the open charge against him and brought disrepute to the fraternity. In fact, the minister Guild must adopt a resolution inviting the minister to carry out his threat of exposing the journalist. It was only after giving a chance to the minister to prove his charge that the Guild could condemn him, if he failed to prove it.
My advice went unheeded. Next day, all newspapers save the one that I represented carried the president's condemnation of the minister. Only one other newspaper took a seemingly balanced view of the episode when it said: 'It is alleged that the minister issued a threat to the reporter.' Personally, I did not approve of this stand for the reason that the newspaper very much had its representative at the press conference and should not have chosen to be so opportunistically careful. What it reported, in its anxiety to avoid taking a stand that would expose a member of the fraternity, was still not the truth.
I don't know what a reader reading more than one newspaper would think about contradictions and discrepancies in reports that he reads. On this particular occasion, if a reader had read about this episode in more than three newspapers, including the one that I served, it is more than likely that my paper or/and I would have lost credibility in his eyes, for, the majority chose to perceive it is a threat, when I alone thought there was some hanky-panky.

Vijendra Rao

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Brave and no-comformist of you to defy your fraternity there Mr. Rao.

In my area of activity, the difference of opinion is not that much and while I may ridicule my pilot fraternity for some of us having a negative attitude and arrogance, I will also give credit where credit is due. And there's a lot of us that have done uncomplaining, professional, creditable work such as ferry flying small and medium sized turboprop Aircraft across the Atlantic.

What the Air India Boeing 747 pilot does on a 9 hour leg with all the automation to help him, we do the same stretch of water taking 16 hours (because truboprop speeds are lower)on delivery flights, with a stop over in Iceland. These airplanes have very little automation compared to the Boeing 747 and fly at lower altitudes which are more turbulent (weather wise)and you'll see us enjoying ourselves doing this.

We don't have flight attendants looking after us, pampering us with meals, bringing us reading materials and so on. Our smaller Aircraft have smaller, cramped cockpits that have no area to move around.

Thats the reason why I go red in the face when I see a young chap on NDTV, complaining about fatigue, when flying in a dream airplane. I know many pilots waiting in the wings who would give an arm and a leg to fly that sort of Aircraft and enjoy that kind of five star life.

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Perhaps, I should have titled this piece as "The Media and Aviation" instead of being specific because it's not just NDTV but CNN-IBN and others as well.

Let me cite an example from a CNN-IBN report about the previous Government's purchase of executive Aircraft (Embraer Legacy)that is now being alleged by the CAG report that some items on the Aircraft were overpaid by more than a 100 crores.

While there's nothing wrong with the CNN-IBN report citing the CAG document, everything was wrong about the airplane that they were showing while they were describing the Embraer jets. They were showing pictures of an Avro 748 coming in to land, a twin turboprop 1960's/early 1970's design and manufactured by HAL under license till the 1980's and they (IBN reporters) were referring to it as the Executive jet that the earlier GOI had purchased.

In a later reported news, they switched to showing the actual Embraer jet, I wonder if some one else in aviation alerted these chaps. With aviation making so much news in India and the World and likely to make a lot of news in the future, why don't these news channels have some one on their rolls or as an outside consultant, to help project the right news and right analysis?

Will it kill them to spend a little more money to do a bit of accurate reporting?

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

For those that need additional information about crew flight times. Ryanair, Europe's biggest Low Cost Airline, utilizes it's pilots to the maximum. Several allegations were leveled against the management that their pilots were being overworked. Ryanair flies International routes throughout Europe.

Investigations revealed that while Ryaniar flight crew did fly the maximum allowed, 100 hours in a 28 day period and not exceeding 900 hours annually starting from March 31st to April 1st, equating to around 18 hours per week.

Now compare with Air India crew doing around half of this fligth time and complaining. Why do you think Air India makes losses? Too many people per Aircraft compared to the World average, too less productivity and some of the workers making too much money for too little work. Ain't it a no brainer?

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Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Readers beware, pls disregard the last anonymous post. It is merely spam. Unethical for spammers to encroach and squat into blogs but since when were spammers ethical, in the first place?

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

An update for those still reading this blog piece. A news item came in the business standard relating to Air India pilots flying 55-60 hours a month compared to 90 hrs of other airlines. Here is the web site:

The article is actually giving a little more credit to AI pilots, a few years back they flew a whole lot lesser than what they are flying now, and thats perhaps the reasons for disgruntlement (if there is such a word!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Capt. Murthy
I am an AI pilot's wife and I would like to say that AI captains are currently flying around 500 hours every 6 months (especially the pilots who are complaining of fatigue).
Although AI follows DGCA specified maximum limit, but it is not healthy to fly to max limits for 3 years. It is like driving your car at 160 kmph, everyday, for 365 days a year..which is guaranteed to cause engine faliure.
AI pilots have not been granted leave for the last 3 years because of pilot shortage.
also ryan air pilts fly within europe, without crossing time zones,leading to less fatigue. AI pilots cross 4 timezones in 8 days when on europe-US sectors. I am sure even passengers will agree that flying from US to india induces jet lag.
As for saying that first officers have the least work......boeing and airbus have specified that their commercial aircraft have a minimum crew requirement of 2 pilots. Also F/O and commanders have delineated duties, it is just as tiring for a F/O as it is for a commander.

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

I am sorry, did not see the last reply from anonymous earlier as i am away flying. just flew a jet from Sydney to Singapore on a 9 hour flight, skirting Cyclone Monica (if you guys were watching TV lately). Thanks ma'm for your thoughts on the subject, I do know the requirements of a two man crew and I have had co-pilots/FO's dozing in my cockpit on occassion, unable to handle time zones, when yours truly had no problems. I have been an FO myself some time back, transatlantic work was only the radio. There's not much to do.

When I was CEO of an Airline in Maldives, my pilots flew more than 500 hours every six months as well. I agree with your argument about the time zones having an effect and I have seen this happen to lots of oridnary people. But, again, as one of the readers Mr.Nikhil pointed out in his comments on this blog, International pilots are trained to face these things. I have a few more transatlantic crossings next month, I am not complaining, I have flown smaller turboprops across the "pond" (as we call it) without the benefit of flying large Aircraft like the B747 that AI flies. I do lot more stops on those delivery flights, go through more time zones, fly a lot slower and at lower altitudes. My delivery flights don't just stop at london from New York and get a crew change. My trip takes me to india and beyond! We ferry chaps take only a night halt!

When we became pilots, we knew what we signed up for. I do thank you for your kind inputs, I am sure you are concerned and so are we, about fatigue.

Blogging One's Own Trinkets said...

That was a convincing reply, captain, to the preceding blog. You are very democratic, the right spirit for any blogger to have.