On 18th June, the representatives of the European aviation authorities and airlines as well as aircraft crews gathered to yet once again discuss the new regulations on Flight and Duty Time proposed by EASA. During a Parliamentary Hearing in the EU Transport Committee held this Tuesday, the parties were still unable to reach common ground as concerns the issue. With controversial new regulations allegedly to be put under vote in the EU Parliament already in H2 2013, time for discussions and amendments has almost run out.
‘Fatigue in the cockpit and among the cabin crew members is undoubtedly the topical issue. The figures indicate that over a half of European pilots tend to experience fatigue whilst on duty. In some countries the figures are as high as 90%. With regard to the current situation, the recent EASA’s initiative to review flight and duty time limitation is loudly saluted. Unfortunately, it seems that the proposed amendments may still be a little bit too harsh on pilots,’ commented the CEO of AviationCV.com Skaiste Knyzaite.
A Pan-European pilot union - the European Cockpit Association (ECA) – along with the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) and a set of other industry organizations have been continuously raising their concerns that the new flight time limitation rules might not resolve the fatigue issue after all. For instance, EASA suggests the reduction of night flights from 11 hours 45 minutes to 11 hours maximum, but the industry representatives claim that the overnight duty should not exceed the 10-hour limit. The latter opinion is based on various scientists’ recommendations, including those stated in the MOEBUS report, a special Scientific and Medical Evaluation of Flight Time Limitations. Furthermore, an 11-hour long night shift has also raised certain concerns within some of the EU member states. For example, the British Parliament’s Transport Committee has stated that ‘the proposed 11 hour duty period at night for pilots flies in the face of scientific evidence. It should be reduced to a 10 hour maximum.’
Another point of the discord between the industry representatives and the authorities is the flight duty period (FDP). The new regulations may lead to a situation when pilots are forced to land an aircraft after 20-22 hours of being awake, which includes 14-15 hours of FDP, 4 hours of standby, and additional time between the one when a pilot wakes up and the one when he actually reports to duty. Another related issue is standby. Critics of the new regulations point out that even home standby may ‘interfere with a normal sleep pattern’ and thus it should be at least partially included in the FDP limitations. Otherwise home standby may last for days, potentially triggering sleep disruptions.
‘Critics of the new EASA proposals are referring to both the relevant scientific studies and actual current situation in the community of pilots. However, one should bear in mind that these proposals are also aimed at unifying the flight and duty time standards across the entire EU. At some point, the proposed standards may be lower in comparison to those already adopted in certain member-states. But considering the majority of other countries, the new regulation will actually assist in bringing the standards to a new higher level. Furthermore, should the EU Parliament be persuaded to vote against the EASA’s proposal, it may take years until there will be another opportunity to bring Europe’s defragmented flight duty regulation under common principles. Needless to say, the new regulations might not be perfect, and in time they should and will definitely be improved whilst taking into account the opinions of all stakeholders. But meanwhile it is vitally important to make the first move,’ concluded Skaiste Knyzaite.