DN - Defence Notes

New flight time rules do not benefit passengers, says ERA

22nd January 2009 - 16:02 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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Proposals to reduce the maximum number of hours worked by airline pilots and cabin crew are unjustified and provide no benefit to airlines or the safety of their passengers, according to the European Regions Airline Association (ERA).

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published a study by consultants recommending that the current EU-wide regulation concerning air crew Flight Time Duty and Rest Limitations should be revised to reduce flight and duty times.

"European air safety standards are already comparable to the best in the world," remarks ERA director general Mike Ambrose (pictured). "The report makes little attempt to provide safety evidence to justify its recommendations to revise the current flight time limitation rules. It appears to be a hurriedly undertaken study which disregards the decades of experience in the setting of these regulations accumulated by national aviation authorities throughout Europe. It is these authorities which have both the hands-on knowledge and direct accountability for the safety of flight operations.

"ERA is disappointed that time and resources have had to be devoted to this study instead of on other initiatives that could contribute more constructively to even more enhanced safety of operations. ‘No-penalty incident reporting’ is one such initiative for which ERA has been lobbying for more than a decade. Although safety incidents are rare, the practice in some states to criminalise incidents prioritises blame and prosecution over encouraging a focus on learning lessons that would help prevent future occurrences. Increasing efforts in this area, rather than using flawed science to make unjustified claims to reduce working hours, is not in the safety interests of the travelling public."

Airlines operating in Europe currently implement strict Flight Time Limitations under the EU OPS regulation which came into effect in July 2007.

ERA points out that, sourced from the Association's own airline data, a typical working week for an airline pilot flying intra-European routes is currently 18-20 hours per week, of which 11-12 hours constitute actual flying time.  This compares to an average European employee whose working week is around 40 hours while the maximum working week for medical doctors in Europe is set at 48 hours.

The Association of European Airlines (AEA) has also expressed dissatisfaction with the report. Its secretary general, Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, commented, "Pilot hours are already very closely regulated, in a system which has demonstrably delivered safe operation over many years and millions of flights. The current body of legislation has evolved in an empirical process at a national level involving airlines and pilot bodies. To try and take this diversity of schemes which are seen to work well and mould them into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ template will add nothing to safety."

If current practices carried safety implications, said Schulte-Strathaus, a comprehensive scientific and medical analysis would be expected to yield solid evidence of pilots’ inability to function effectively and a catalogue of accidents and incidents. "The EASA report is wholly unconvincing in this respect," he said.

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