Southwest Airlines pilot union says fatigue is 'number-one' safety threat

The number of fatigue reports jumped 330% in March

Southwest Airlines' pilot union said that there has been a rise in pilots suffering from fatigue due to "operational mismanagement" and it's causing a serious safety concern for crew and passengers. 

In a letter to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan obtained by FOX Business, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) says that the number of fatigue reports to the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and Southwest Airlines’ Fatigue Safety Advisory Group "have been climbing exponentially" since last summer and that there has been "no meaningful attempts by management to mitigate them." 

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Southwest Airlines pilots perform a pre-check in a 737 aircraft before a flight at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Mike Stewart / Getty Images)

The union, which is the sole bargaining unit for the almost 10,000 pilots and currently negotiating with the airline for a new contract, said the number of pilots asking to be relieved from a flight assignment because of fatigue jumped 330% in March compared with the same month in pre-pandemic years. 

To make matters worse, this month "is already setting fatigue records," the union said. However, the problem started upon returning to normal flying capacity in June 2021, when there was a more than 200% increase in fatigue rates.

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LUV SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. 45.80 +0.80 +1.78%

In August and September rates climbed 350% and in October rates surged more than 600%, the union said, adding that "management took a ‘wait and hope’ approach, but reality struck with January and February rates doubling." 

The union argued in the letter that both acute and cumulative fatigue is the "number-one" safety threat for the airline. 

"This dramatic increase in safety reports is a direct result of operational mismanagement by the company that has negatively impacted every front-line employee at Southwest Airlines as well as tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of our guests," the letter read. 

In this frame grab from cellphone video, passengers look for information on their flights, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at Dallas Love Field.  ((AP Photo/Julie March / AP Newsroom)

However, Southwest told FOX Business in a statement that it's "seen a significant and steady decline in the number of Pilots calling in fatigued" since implementing schedule revisions last November. 

The airline also said the March increase was expected due to irregular operations. 

"The industry faced weather and airspace delays that resulted in disruptions across the network, Southwest said. "The March increase in pilot fatigue calls is a result of the system working as designed, allowing crew to determine if they are too fatigued to fly." 

The carrier said it has "systems in place that do not allow us to schedule crew without their required 10 hours of rest" and "if there are instances where pilots were unable to obtain eight hours of sleep within that 10-hour window, we will review those circumstances and respond." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.