I see another journalist looking for a story and a source. There is so much I could show and tell but won't. Who can you trust these days? But I would offer any journalist some guiding words if the truth is what they truly seek.
So. What I would say to Orla?
I'm glad to see the BBC taking an interest in FTL's, rosters and fatigue in general and in particular the Middle East.
I think it would help if you could lay out your stall and objective. Where are you going with this?
FTL's are a complex issue, laid down legally by authorities, much of which makes little logical sense and vague enough to allow operators to step nimbly around the law to derive the maximum productivity from their crews often with little regard of their actual fitness to fly.
I would advise you do some research into what are the actual laws. You cannot begin to write until you understand them, at least in principle. Do you understand the difference between Duty Time, Flight Duty Time, Stick Time, Rest Time, Travel Time etc.? Do you understand fatigue reporting and processing? Do you understand the difference between being tired and being fatigued? Would you prefer a tired pilot to a fatigued one? Do you understand the overlap between Aviation Law and Employment Law? And do you appreciate the spirit of the law?
You cannot challenge the law itself unless you understand it. And no operator is stupid enough to simply break the law. If you are looking for evidence of this you will struggle to find it. When something goes wrong they will state for the public that they are acting within the law. And they are. Satisfied all go about their business without wondering if the law itself is reasonable. Perhaps look at the legal intentions.
I would also caution you fromlooking at isolated instances from pilots. Many pilots themselves often do not understand the law or the nuances of FTL's and wind up making embarrassing and technically inaccurate claims that the authorities or airlines put down without breaking a sweat. Pilots make poor legal representatives however tired they may be. If you want data it's out there. You must know where to look. You must do your homework not leave it only to the pilots to produce the material that is frequently a small glimpse of a larger issue. You must then compile the data into a meaningful, accurate article not one filled with irrelevant quotes, blurry faces and robotic voice distortion, dramatic as it all may be.
I don't know how often I hear pilots complaining of the hardships of 100 hour rosters. I can show you 100 hour rosters that would be a dream and 80 hour rosters that would be a nightmare. As a broad rule you should look at Duty Time. That is a better measure of how tired or fatigued one may be. It is after all time on the job that counts. Then look at how this duty time is constructed and what safeguards there are. That may raise an eyebrow.
Challenge who makes the law and who lobbies for law change. Then you are beginning to scratch the surface. Bear in mind that much of the Aviation Law in the Middle East is derived directly from European Aviation Law. So it must be ok right? I mean Brussels would get it right wouldn't they? Answerable politicians, transparent lawmaking, no lobbying allowed, sensible advise from impartial "experts"...
It might be a good start to go closer to home. Your own BALPA had huge issues with EASA changes to FTL's and in my opinion with good reason. But ultimately they lost and the LCC's got their way pleasing the public with better profits and lower fares. All great until it goes horribly wrong and people die but everyone can claim they were "operating within the legal guidelines." so it must have been those reckless, careless pilots. While the FAA were making more restrictive FTL's the Europeans were relaxing the rules allowing more airline self governance. Ring any bells?
On top of this all think of the application of the law. The clue's in the name: FT Limitations. Show me an operator who is appreciably more restrictive than the absolute limits. Do you conduct your life at the limits in every aspect? I doubt it. You would be quickly killed, die, burn out, or get old and sick before your time. Do you run your machinery at the absolute limits? In aviation at least that aspect is frowned upon. It's odd that principle doesn't propagate throughout all the operation.
Actually I'm amazed there are not more nasty occurrences in aviation but maybe there are and we simply don't get to see them for what they are.
If you are looking for a quick piece for general public interest don't bother. You will either make a show of your lack of knowledge or be shot down quickly by the PR
departments of airlines and the spin to the public who will only understand: "Those lazy pilots only have to fly 100 hours in 28 days. Us other mortals must work 160 so they are clearly underworked".
FTL's are the business of airlines and you better know your stuff before taking them on. It's a brave investigative journalist who does that in these days of 20 second attention spans and sound bites.
Good luck to you. I hope you get good sources and you can protect them. I hope you can portray the bigger problem rather that the isolated instances, illustrative as they may be. Will the BBC put the protection of their sources and the public before their economic interests? I'm a cynic when money is at play. It brings out the worst.
Don't be too hard on the Middle East. FTL's worldwide are a problem. But they are infinitely more dangerous in places where the lack of formal representation by the very people that experience the fatigue allows airlines to run unchecked. Perhaps ask a few lawmakers or airline managers when they last (or ever) flew a modern roster while they happily invoke the next modification, "variation" or "burn out policy".
To answer a general question: "Are there pilots being pushed beyond the limits of what is plainly sensible in terms of fatigue or health?" The answer is Yes. "Does this put the public at some level of reasonably avoidable risk?" Yes. It's been cried many times and glossed over.
There's never this much smoke without fire. Good luck in your quest. I look forward to reading some hard facts and truth in a real expose and having my faith in the BBC resorted as an impartial news agency.