Clock Starts Ticking for EU Flight Time Limitation rules

01/08/2013

New rules to counter air crew fatigue on board of European aircraft have been unveiled this week by the European Commission. This final proposal comes after an intensive debate among Member States in the ‘EASA Committee’, several of whom voiced concerns about some of the proposed new rules, such as on night flights and standby. Despite this, the text now published shows little difference to the previous flawed EASA proposal, put forward in 2012. Disregarding repeated calls to close some of the most blatant safety loopholes in the text, the Commission now aims for adoption without delay – a wish strongly echoed by European airlines.

The key player will now be the European Parliament, as it has to either approve or reject the proposal. Several MEPs have already expressed concerns following the Commission’s failure to implement scientific advice on how to prevent crew fatigue. Excessively long night flying, dangerous combinations of standby followed by long flight duties, and early morning starts that disrupt sleep patterns, have been among the most criticized aspects of the proposal.

This criticism had been echoed by 6 renowned scientific experts. In a position paper, published in May, the European Transport Safety Council calls the proposal overly-complicated as well as scientifically unsound and urges decision-makers to ‘think carefully’ before adopting the text.

Representatives of EASA, the EU Commission and airlines tried to head off these criticisms in June, at a 2-hour Parliamentary Hearing in the EP Transport Committee. Yet, a testimony given by fatigue management expert Dr. Gundel illustrated that air crew and experts’ criticism is well-placed.

However, Parliament will have only 2 months – instead of the usual 3 months – to ‘scrutinise’ the proposed rules before they give their final (dis)approval. This is because the publication of the Commission’s proposal triggered the EP’s ‘scrutiny clock’ to start ticking end of July, i.e. during the EP’s summer recess when the MEPs are on holiday. 2 months to decide whether the rules are sufficient to ensure the safety of European passengers...