The struggle for new flight time limitation (FTL) intensifies as the EU Parliament’s Transport Committee has voted against the EU Commission’s proposal this week. Despite the rejection, EASA’s proposal enters the homestretch, as the final decision of the EU Parliament will be voiced during its Plenary Session later this month. With none of the discussion parties willing to make any concessions, inability to arrive at a consensus might eventually become a step backwards in building the Single European Sky.
’It seem that pilots and the EU lawmakers are on one side of the struggle, airlines and the EU Commission – on the other. No one argues that the temporary amendments made back in 2006 may and must be improved and harmonized within the entire European community. However, the fidelity of the parties to their positions is admirable and disappointing at the same time. It seems that industry players still cannot find common ground as to which extent the current Flight Time regulations should be improved, ‘comments Skaiste Knyzaite, the CEO of AviationCV.com.
The main two issues which are being fiercely argued about by the parties concern night duty shifts and the overall awake time requirement for pilots. With regard to the former, EASA wants to decrease the currently allowed night duty time by 45 minutes (to 11 hours). However, pilot unions and the representatives of the scientific community argue that even the reduced 11-hour-long night shifts pose significant safety risks due to cockpit crew fatigue.
The second and much more sensitive reason for the discord is the overall time requirements with regard to pilots being awake. Recently British media has reported that both pilots from one of the UK-based carriers fell asleep during the flight leaving the aircraft in the control of unsupervised autopilot. The two pilots fell asleep due to extreme fatigue and the lack of quality sleep during the period of over 36-hours. Such safety risks may eventually lead to such cases like the one in India, where after a deep sleep and a sudden awakening an aircraft captain hadn’t managed to assess a critical situation correctly which eventually resulted in an aircraft crash with over 150 casualties.
’Pilot unions want to limit night shifts to 10 hours max and substantially limit the overall allowance for pilots being awake. They believe that 22 hours of being awake is the limit (including home stand-by) and it must be substantially decreased. However, one should consider that the current regulations in many EU countries are far less favourable for pilots as concerns working shifts and fatigue minimization,’ comments Skaiste Knyzaite.
Currently there are no EU-wide limitations on stand-by time, resulting that in some countries pilots might be awake for approx. 26 hours while landing an aircraft. In the meantime, the EU Commission argues that 22-hour cases are rather an exception than a rule, as the majority of pilots work 16-hour long shifts.
But according to Skaiste Knyzaite, no strict regulations on the stand-by time and formal allowance for pilots to be awake for up to 22 hours might be abused in certain cases. With this in mind, pilots’ concerns are more than understandable.
“Still, the document is aimed at unifying FTL regulations across the region and bringing them to new standards - higher standards than the ones currently implemented in many European countries. After all, the latest FTL might become an important contribution to the Single European Sky program. One thing is clear, though - both EASA and the pilot community must sit down together and reach a consensus on an optimal FTL version, and introduce an amended proposal prior to the final vote at the EU Parliament Plenary Session. Otherwise we might lose yet another opportunity to make European aviation truly integrated and unified,’ concluded Skaiste Knyzaite, the CEO of AviationCV.com.