European fatigue rules dangerous: UK pilots

European proposals on pilot fatigue, which would see pilots asked to fly aircraft more than 20 hours after being awake, have been criticised as ‘a danger to public safety’ by UK pilots’ union Balpa.

The proposals could legally allow pilots to land their aircraft 22 hours after they had woken for the day, Balpa said.

The organisation said it was worried that the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) appeared to be supporting the plans. Balpa was highlighting its concerns today at a UK House of Commons Transport Committee hearing into flight time limitations. Airlines and the CAA were also among those giving evidence to MPs.

Before the meeting Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “Twenty hours of wakefulness is far from the only part of the proposals which give us serious concern. “Compared to the UK’s domestic rules, the EU proposals would see pilots being able to fly further – as far as California – with no back-up crew and, contrary to scientific advice, allow pilots to do up to seven early starts in a row, which is desperately fatiguing.”

“We have met with the CAA to try to get them to realise the dangers of what is being proposed here, but they seem intent on supporting this European scheme. “We need the Government to say it won’t support this danger to public safety, and will demand that we either get the proposals to a much safer position, or retain our own domestic rules. “The Government have to answer this question: ‘Is it safe to land an aircraft after 22 hours?’. If not, they need to reject these EU proposals now and keep the current UK rules in place until they have been significantly improved.”

Balpa says 22 hours of wakefulness is achieved in the following way. For a two pilot, two flight day the absolute maximum Flight Duty Period is 20 hours under the EASA proposals and 16.25 hours under the existing UK rules known as CAP371. It says that the reality of the EASA proposals is that a pilot could wake at 5.00 am, report for ‘airport standby’ at 7.00 am, fly at 11.00 am and land and park the aircraft at the end of the FDP at 3.00 am the following day. He or she would then go to the crew room to complete their duty period by 3.30 am and either go to a hotel or find their way home. This means that pilots could be landing their aircraft after having been awake for 22 hours.

Flying further with no back-up crew is due to lower restrictions on two-crew operations.  In this way, whereas very long-haul flights such as to the West Coast of the USA need to be undertaken by three pilots so that each can get some rest and be alert for the landing, this restriction will be lifted under the proposed rules.

Currently pilots are restricted in the number of early starts they may to do in a row.  Currently, this limit is set at three which conforms to scientific recommendations. The proposals would lift that restriction to seven in a row, which is unscientific and unsafe.

UK aviation minister Theresa Villiers told the committee there would be “significant safety gains for UK passengers” from the European proposals. She said UK passengers travelling on some European airlines were currently flying with carriers not subject to the existing pilot flight times under which UK airlines operate. Ms Villiers said the European plans would “broadly” bring the whole of the continent up to UK standards and would not see a “levelling down” of standards. She went on: “It’s never going to be possible to get complete scientific consensus (on fatigue).”

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