Pilots’ body says EU has failed to protect passenger safety

Monday October 1st 2012

The European body that represents airline pilots, the European Cockpit Association (ECA) has said today (Monday) that the latest EU guidelines on pilots flying time “will jeopardise flight safety and have significant consequences for Europe’s passengers.”

The ECA made its comments today as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published its final proposal for new Flight Time Limitations (FTL) for pilots and cabin crew.

IALPA, the Irish airline pilots’ body, which is affiliated to the ECA, has said that despite available scientific evidence, commercial concerns have dictated EASA’s latest proposals. IALPA safety and technical officer Captain Paul Cullen commented, “Despite repeated calls for safe and science-based FTL rules to prevent air crew fatigue from endangering flight safety, EASA and the EU Commission are opting for a text that addresses the airlines’ commercial needs, but fails to protect passenger safety.”

Captain Cullen added that EASA had also disregarded its own scientific evidence, which advises lower levels of standby duty and flying hours. “This is the scientific evidence commissioned by EASA which it is now ignoring in order to make pilots fly longer” he said.

ECA President Nico Voorbach commented “By focusing on some marginal improvements compared to the current EU FTL rules, EASA deflects from the fact that its proposal will permit work schedules that will make pilots fly whilst being dangerously fatigued. As safety professionals, pilots are duty bound not to operate when fatigued. It will be our responsibility to decline duties that are not safe.”

The ECA states that the EASA proposal disregards unanimous scientific advice and makes it legal for pilots to operate an aircraft and land after having been awake for more than 22 hours. The proposed new regulation will also allow:

  • Long hours awake at the moment of landing, after long standby and flight duties.
  • Night flights of up to 12 hrs whilst scientists recommend a limit of 10 hours.
  • Putting crews on open-ended standby for many days without an ability to plan their sleep, and evading stringent rules on flight schedules that disrupt sleep patterns (e.g. early starts).

ECA Secretary General Philip von Schöppenthau commented “Fatigue impairs the judgment and ability of air crews to react quickly – with potentially disastrous consequences, as demonstrated by recent accidents. We cannot wait for another accident before the EU wakes up and realises its rules are insufficient. We need safe rules now.”
Captain Cullen said that IALPA is supporting the ECA’s call for the EU institutions to withdraw their support from the latest proposals ‘without delay’. “We want to see changes enacted that protect the most basic passenger right: the right to a safe flight. We believe that these proposals put that safety at risk.”