There is a rising threat to flight crews' physical and mental health as the COVID-19 pandemic prolongs into 2021. Recent cases of pilots collapsing highlighted the issue of crew members getting caught in an endless cycle between flying and quarantining. The Pilots Union Taoyuan said such working conditions are unacceptable.
One foreign EVA Air pilot returning to Taiwan recently after a long-haul flight was found confirmed with COVID-19 during the quarantine period. He has been fully vaccinated and was about to finish quarantine and move onto self-health management after being PCR-tested negative on the fifth day. Other than being a case of breakthrough infection, the truth came out that the foreign pilot was also appointed to fly during the quarantine period from a previous flight. This case has brought to the attention of the Pilots Union Taoyuan.
Chang Chih-hao, Retired pilot: “Quarantine policies say that flight crews are not allowed to leave the quarantine hotel for five days, so how can they be appointed to fly for work during that time? It doesn’t put the community at large at risk but it puts other crew members and airport staff at risk. There could be cross-infections ”
A retired pilot said that most pilots now are busy flying cargo flights to-and-from the US since they are more profitable during the pandemic. Pilots are extremely stressed from being caught in the endless cycle between flying and quarantining. The government should consider setting up a special “quarantine park” for flight crews so they can live more of a “normal” life during the pandemic, one retired pilot suggested. A Venezuelan pilot working for a Taiwan airline company was found dead at his Taoyuan residence on Sat. Oct. 23 after returning home from quarantine, before which he flew a long haul flight. Flight crews need help and support for their physical and mental health. The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) promised to communicate with the Civil Aeronautics Administration in resolving this problem.
Shih Chung-liang, Deputy Minister, MOHW: “If the problem of working long hours persists, I think the Civil Aeronautics Administration will have talks with airline companies and try to adjust their flight schedules and flight crew shifts.”
Li Hsin-yen, Chairperson, Pilots Union Taoyuan: “It will only put us more at risk for catching the disease if we were to fly non-stop. Contact tracing becomes extremely difficult since pilots fly to so many different countries and airports. They come in contact with so many people that it's hard to pinpoint where exactly the source of infection is.”
The Pilots Union Taoyuan plans to launch a yellow ribbon movement to make the following demand: Pilots should not be assigned to fly during their quarantine period so they fully rest, as their health relates to flight safety.