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Primera Air aircraft (photo: © Thorbjørn Brunander Sund, danishaviationphoto.com)

Pilot criticises Primera Air over poor safety

Pilots flew with the now bankrupt Primera Air under difficult conditions, a former pilot reveals.

The terms of employment at the controversial and now bankrupt Primera Air meant that its pilots worked even if they were ill or had too little sleep, one of the pilots has revealed.

“It’s the first company I’ve worked for where I didn’t recommend people I knew to fly with it. This was due to both the risk of bankruptcy and, especially, flight safety,” Jens Anker Nielsen tells the Danish regional newspaper JydskeVestkysten.

Nielsen, aged 52, who has 33 years of experience as a pilot, of which 21 are in civil aviation, describes the work conditions at Primera Air.

He was employed as a captain at Primera from March until the bankruptcy at the start of this month, and he tells the newspaper how the terms of employment at the company went beyond air safety.

He joined the airline through the contract agency Aviation Staffing based in Malta. The majority of Primera Air’s pilots had no paid holiday, he says, and just a few days’ sick leave.

At the same time, a large part of the pilot’s salary was dependent on “flight pay”, which was calculated according to how many hours they were in the air.

“It should not be directly connected to the pilot’s wallet when you have to consider whether you are ill or if the plane has problems. If you decide that you or the plane are not fit to fly, it costs a quick $5,000 in salary. I know pilots flew when they were sick,” Nielsen tells JydskeVestkysten.

No sleep
There was a high degree of shift work in the daytime rhythm, he says, and a large number of crew members commuted a long way to get to work.

“There are many who flew on the basis of very little sleep,” he says.

Nielsen explains that he repeatedly wanted to confront his employers with his concerns about flight safety and the poor working conditions, but he was sure he would lose his job if he did, he tells the newspaper.

By doing so now, he hopes to help raise people’s awareness of why some airlines and travel agencies can offer such low prices and he calls for increased political focus and legislative changes in the area.

“Flight pay should not be legal,” he says. “Legislation about rest times should also take better account of the shift in the daily rhythm. Safety is under pressure in the industry, and Primera Air was a good example. In fact, this must be solved at the EU level. It is the industry as such that has a problem. Primera is not an isolated case.”

Criticism rejected
Peder Hornshøj, managing director of Bravo Tours and Sun Tours and a former board member of Primera Air, has rejected the newspaper article’s stinging criticisms about air safety at the airline.

“As a tour operator we were always happy to use Primera, they always delivered good quality, service and punctual flights almost every time. We never had anything but great faith in the safety,” he said.

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