Proposed new rules on pilots’ working hours could lead to air crews flying while “dangerously fatigued”, union officials have warned ahead of a key vote by MEPs.
On Monday afternoon, members of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee will vote on proposals to establish common flight and duty-time limitations across Europe. Their decision is the most significant stage in the process towards the new rules becoming law, but they would have to be approved by the European Commission and could be subject to legal challenges.
Besides the actual length of a flight, the regulations take into account the amount and quality of rest since the previous duty and the “circadian component” or jet lag.
British pilots could face longer turns of duty, with fewer flight crew on some long-haul flights. For example, BA and Virgin currently roster three pilots to fly from Heathrow to Los Angeles. Under the new rules, there could be just two. The European Cockpit Association, which represents 38,000 pilots, said some of the proposals constituted “an outright risk to flight safety”. Its president, Nico Voorbach, said: “The new rules will only worsen the situation of air crews flying while dangerously fatigued.”
The association claimed pilots could be rostered for eight hours on standby then work on a 14-hour flight, meaning they would be landing after 22 hours on duty. It is claimed this level of tiredness equates to being four times over the blood-alcohol limit for flying.
Mr Voorbach added: “Air crews will be asked to fly over 12 hours throughout the night, whilst scientists warn that safety risks increase significantly after 10 hours at night.”
Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said: “A European regulator that lacks scientific and medical expertise is being allowed to tear up UK flight safety rules.”
But the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), which includes BMI Regional and Cityjet, accused the unions of using “misinformation” in a bid to scupper the proposals.
Simon McNamara, ERA’s director general, said: “Social and political considerations, which are being led by flight and cabin unions, and not safety issues, are aimed at persuading MEPs to vote against the motion.”
The Association of European Airlines (AEA), which includes British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, insisted the new rules would benefit customers, and were essential for an “environmentally sustainable, safe and cost- efficient aviation market”. AEA’s Athar Husain Khan said the new rules would ensure Europe would continue to have one of the strictest rules in the world, “even stricter than today.