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Towards a new EU regulation on working time pilots

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Since the 1944 Chicago Convention, it is recognized that pilot fatigue (due to long duty hours, insufficient rest/sleep opportunities etc.) can pose a risk to the safety of air operations. This risk needs to be controlled by the means of Flight Time Limitations. Fatigue reduces the physical and mental ability to operate safely. A fatigued person may lose 80% of his/her attention capabilities and 70% of responsiveness. The effects of severe fatigue are comparable to those provoked by alcohol. However, whilst alcohol is forbidden in transport, fatigue in the cockpit is tolerated.

Pilot fatigue contributes to 15-20% of all fatal air accidents related to human error. Surveys among pilots show that 71-90% of pilots said they made errors due to fatigue, with 50-54% saying they dozed off in the cockpit without notifying their colleague.

A proposal on flight time limitations from the European commission, harmonizes flight and rest rules at EU level, reducing the maximum flight duty time at night from 11.45 hours to 11, the maximum number of flying hours per year from 1,300 to 1,000 and the maximum duty time (airport standby + flight) to 16 hours, instead of the 26 or even 28 currently applying in certain member states.

However, critics say these measures are insufficient and disregard scientific recommendations to limit flight duty to 10 hours maximum. The 16 hours duty time has been deemed excessive by doctors and sleep experts. Beyond this limit, they argue that a third pilot should be present, as is the case in the United States.
The European Parliament decided in a plenary vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday October 9, 2013 not to follow the advice of its transport committee, which had rejected the European Commission’s draft law on flight time limitations in September.
With 387 votes against the proposed motion to reject the proposal, a Parliament majority backed the Commission.

The European Cockpit Association (ECA), which represents pilots from all over Europe, expressed concern over the vote. Its secretary general, Philip von Schöppenthau, told EurActiv that the vote was “a shame and bad news for passenger safety”.

The text approved still contains significant safety loopholes that have not been closed, such as excessively long night flight times and dangerously long combinations of standby and flight duty. As long as these holes remain wide open, and as long as scientific recommendations are deliberately ignored, the whole package remains unsafe. This text has been tailored around the airlines’ commercial needs, not around passenger safety”.

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