European pilots unions are raising alarm ahead of a vote in the European Parliament’s transport committee on Monday (30 September) on a European Commission proposal to tighten and standardise flight time limits for pilots across the European Union.
The European Cockpit Association (ECA), an umbrella organisation of national pilots unions, has been meeting with MEPs this week ahead of the vote to warn them that rather than protecting pilots, the new rules will actually increase the amount of time pilots have to fly in some member states.
“The proposed rules contain a large number of provisions that are counter to what scientific experts consider safe,” said Philip von Schöppenthau, ECA Secretary General. “The new rules will only worsen the situation of air crews flying while dangerously fatigued. Would you get onboard a plane if you knew that the pilot will have been awake for 22 hours when landing? In the future, you wouldn’t have a choice.”
The far left and Green groups in the European Parliament have responded to the union warnings by tabling an amendment to reject the proposal. The main S&D, ALDE and EPP groups have not yet taken a position.
The European Commission says the union is purposefully distorting the proposal to make flight times seem longer than they are, in order to push for even lower limits. No member state would see flying time limits increase under this proposal, they insist. On the contrary, the proposal would lower flight time limits in every member state.
Existing EU standards on flight time limits were agreed eight years ago but were temporary and did not cover large areas such as resting time and jet lag adjustment. The new proposal would make the standards permanent and increase harmonisation in the areas previously not covered. It is being done under a cometology procedure, meaning member states and the European Parliament have three months to either approve or reject it. That scrutiny period ends on 25 October.
The ECA is arriving at the 22 hour figure by adding the proposal’s 14 hour daytime flight limit to its 8 hour ‘standby at the airport’ limit. Currently standby time is not limited by the EU and it varies widely between member states. This combined ‘flying plus standby’ time is currently up to 26 hours in some member states.
The new proposal says a combined standby and flight time cannot be more than 16 hours together. The union is arriving at its 22 hour figure by adding a six our ‘at home standby’ time. But the Commission argues this can’t be considered as a continuous shift, since pilots can be sleeping while on standby at home.
The union also says that the proposal’s limit of 11 hours (down from the current 11 hours 45 minutes) for night time flying is above what “scientific experts consistently recommend,” a maximum of ten hours. But the Commission says only one study conducted in 1998 which pertained to a specific long-distance flight. The general scientific consensus is 11 hours, they say. The UK is the only country to have a night time limit less than 11 hours 45 minutes, setting the limit instead at 11 hours 15 minutes.
The Association of European Airlines (AEA) is calling on the Parliament’s transport committee to back the Commission’s proposal. “The lack of harmonised FTL rules would mean that the current fragmented legislative framework would continue to apply,” said Athar Husain Khan, secretary general of the AEA. “The new FTL rules would ensure that Europe will continue to have one of the strictest rules in the world, even stricter than today.”
If the transport committee votes to reject the proposal it will go to a plenary vote in Strasbourg, most likely on 9 October. If they adopt it, the issue will not be put before the plenary.
With the exception of Austria and the Netherlands, all member states were in support of the proposal when it came out in July. But that may have changed in recent weeks with increased pressure from the unions. Earlier this month, the British parliament’s transport committee advised the UK government to reject the proposal.