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March 6, 2017

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EU pilot fatigue rules miss required effect

aircraft-994943_640Last 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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Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree

Perhaps the ISO 45001 WEL (Work Exposure Limits) standards for managing work related fatigue risk assessment of potential over-exposure to stressors will help introduce the reality of “experience” into the equation and maybe allow some further refinement of current well-meaning but, sounds like, over complex guide ? Mind you, it’s been 27 years since EU occupational health introduced some basic ergonomic guide-lines for DSE user operators who remain, to this day, still suffering the debilitating symptoms of Screen Fatigue / CVS as the UK managed to avoid actually completing a “risk assessment” of the users of DSE by limiting it… Read more »

R moore
R moore

You should also know that the vast majority of airline transport pilots are scared to speak out in Fear of our jobs. This isn’t a good thing. My association The British Airline Pilots Association – BALPA- are our only trusted point of reference as in the uk the regulator, The CAA, has admitted publicly its failings in managing fatigue amongst uk pilots and has made most of its staff redundant, has no qualified medical practitioners anymore and does virtually nothing to assist fatigued pilots either individually or collectively. The DSE Regs do not apply to flight crew despite us using… Read more »

Carina Gous
Carina Gous

In my 16 year career in natural healing I have read numerous studies on the detramental effects of frequent flying.While the rules and regulations are still not in place, like the above-mentioned artcle, pilots and crew should educate themselves on supplementation and what to look for on shelves that will help their bodies cope. Nutrition is mostlythe last thing they think about or do something about. ready to help…