Night flights controversy: EASA brushes-off scientific advice

24/06/2013

Night flights of more than 10hrs are accompanied by critically high levels of fatigue, which impair the ability to operate an aircraft safely. This fact is undisputed ever since the early 90s across the scientific community. Yet, with deliberate disregard to this scientific consensus the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) tried to dismiss this fact and defend its controversial proposal for over 11hrs of night flying during a Public Hearing in the EU Parliament.

On 18 June, in the presence of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), representatives of airlines, aircrews, EU Commission, UK CAA, EASA and scientific fatigue experts expressed their views and concerns about the new proposal for Flight Time Limitations in Europe.

While EASA and the EU Commission tried to dismiss any doubt about the scientific basis of the proposed rules, they offered little explanation as to why numerous studies and expert opinion that recommend a limit of 10hrs at night have been largely ignored. “Both EASA and the Commission have shown an extraordinary resistance to independent external scientific advice”, said Jon Horne, ECA Professional Affairs Director, who represented European pilots at the Hearing. 

Dr. Gundel, speaking on behalf of scientific fatigue experts, stressed that night flights risk being accompanied by high fatigue levels and reiterated that scientists are unanimous in their advice. He specifically warned that if MEPs vote in favour of EASA’s proposed 11hrs limit, they would be “voting against the opinion of scientific experts”.

This has been echoed by MSc. Mick Spencer, another well-known scientist who contributed to several expert reports commissioned by EASA. In an interview for Danish TV, Mr. Spencer said that “The regulator is taking enormous amount of responsibility onto itself by going up to 11hrs against the advice of independent scientists. If you reject our concerns then make it clear that this is what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. And you take full responsibility for that”.

Following the Hearing, ECA President Nico Voorbach urged EU decision-makers to play with open cards: “…either they follow the advice of independent scientists and propose safe rules; or they reject their recommendations and push a text with serious safety loopholes. But then they must take full responsibility and face liability claims if an accident happens”.

YouTube video: Dr. Alexander Gundel speaking at the FTL Hearing