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January 25, 2013

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Pilots fear EU fatigue rules will jeopardise safety

In a week when the prime minister raised the prospect of a referendum on UK membership of the EU, pilots and cabin crew across Europe staged demonstrations against planned legislation from Brussels that they believe will harm safety by increasing their hours in the cockpit.

Proposals from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will replace the UK’s current domestic regulations. According to the Unite union, new standby provisions could result in: pilots landing after being awake for 22 hours or more; a reduction in the number of pilots required on very long-haul flights; the elimination of restrictions on the number of early starts that pilots can do, which are especially fatiguing; and allow longer overnight duties than scientists say are safe.

European airline associations dispute this view, emphasising that the amended Flight Time Limitation (FTL) rules do not compromise safety. On the contrary, the Association of European Airlines, the European Regions Airline Association and the International Air Carrier Association all say the changes will harmonise the different FTL requirements that exist across Europe, and even include some more restrictive limitations.

In a statement, the heads of the three airline associations said: “Based on the EASA proposal, Europe will continue to have one of the strictest FTL rules in the world. National safety regulators – for example, the UK Civil Aviation Authority –have welcomed the EASA proposal, which, to a large extent, is equivalent to the current well-proven UK CAP 371 rules.

“The adoption process of the final rules should therefore not be derailed as a result of misleading information.”

EASA points out that more than 50 scientific studies were analysed, while stakeholder groups, including flight and cabin-crew organisations, airlines and Member-State representatives, were all consulted throughout the process.

The European Cockpit Association, however, has published findings that a third of pilots admit to having fallen asleep while flying, along with 92 per cent of German pilots conceding to having worked despite being too tired to do so.

Italian MEP Mario Borghezio says further problems caused by fatigue often go unreported to the relevant national safety body or civil aviation authority, in order to avoid any repercussions for those involved.

Ahead of this week’s demonstrations, Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), said: “Pilots and cabin crew are united on this. Fatigue regulations must be safe, they must be scientifically sound, and they must recognise the danger that fatigue presents to the travelling public.

“The rules that the EU are imposing on the UK will make pilots fly more tired, more often, and will certainly increase the chance of a fatigue-related accident in the UK. Decision-makers can never claim they have not been warned.”

The new rules are expected to be adopted into EU law after the middle of this year and fully implemented by the end of 2015.

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