EU pilot fatigue rules miss required effect
Last month marked one year of European airlines flying under the new EU Flight Time Limitations (FTL) rules – which were introduced to prevent pilot fatigue from endangering flight safety.
However, the European Cockpit Association (ECA) has issued a statement condeming the complexity of the new EU FTL rules that results in them being “widely mis-interpreted and incorrectly implemented”.
The ECA says that there are different interpretations of the rules, a lack of official guidance on correct implementation, immature fatigue risk management systems in the airlines and persistent fatigue problems.
It is calling on aviation stakeholder to address these issues.
“Particularly at risk are night flight duties of 10 hrs or more, extended flights of 14 hours, and standby-flight combinations with pilots being awake for more than 18 hours – but being expected to land their aircraft and passengers safely after such duties,” says ECA President Capt. Dirk Polloczek. “Although we have new rules, the old problem persists: many fatigued pilots in Europe’s cockpits.”
In a report published two months ago by the London School of Economics, it was highlighted that fatigue is an issue for six out of ten European pilots, but only two out of ten pilots think that fatigue is taken seriously by their airline.
“These findings are serious enough to serve as a wake-up call for European and national aviation authorities,” continues Polloczek. “But the problem is that many national authorities have insufficient resources and knowhow to properly oversee the new rules and their correct application.”
The ECA is calling on the European Aviation Safety Agency to guide the work on clarifying interpretation and implementation.
The ECA also argues that proactive Fatigue Risk Management (FRM) systems need to play a more prominent role in airlines’ efforts to reduce crew fatigue. FRM is, in its essence, complementary to the prescriptive FTL rules, allowing airlines to ‘customise’ some aspects of the regulation. Those two components taken together were supposed to reconcile adequate fatigue protection and flexibility for airlines to operate efficiently.
“In reality, however, Fatigue Risk Management remains either misunderstood, poorly handled, inadequately overseen or simply used as a smokescreen to cover ongoing malpractice,” says Philip von Schöppenthau, ECA Secretary General.
“Our own benchmarking among almost 30 airlines shows that too few operators have actually implemented a functional and effective system to manage their crews’ fatigue risk.
“It is therefore crucial that EASA and the NAAs invest more in training and auditing of the operators. Otherwise, FRM risks remaining a paper-tiger exercise with no real effect on fatigue.”
A scientific review of Europe’s FTL rules is underway, with a final report expected in February 2019.
“This review is crucial.” says von Schöppenthau, “Several years ago leading scientific fatigue experts had warned that the new FTL rules would be insufficient to counter the safety risks associated with pilot fatigue.
“We therefore welcome this study and hope it will help EU regulators to finally close the safety lacunae of today’s rules.”
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