Pilots Decry EASA Proposal for ‘Harmonized’ Duty-time Limits

 - July 22, 2013, 1:25 PM
‘Harmonized’ duty-time rules for pilots in Europe would allow shifts starting at 4 p.m. to last as long as 12.5 hours. (Photo: Fotolia)

So-called harmonized flight- and duty-time rules for pilots and cabin crew approved by a European Aviation Safety Agency committee on July 11 drew sharply different reactions from Europe’s pilot union coalition and airline associations on Monday. Speaking with AIN last Tuesday, European Cockpit Association president Nico Voorbach characterized the basis for the new rules as unscientific and driven wholly by the interests of the airline lobby in Europe. In a joint statement issued July 15, the Association of European Airlines (AEA), the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and International Air Carrier Association (IACA) lauded the EASA proposal as “balanced” and called for adoption “without delay.”

Happily for Voorbach, the plan still needs to pass through Europe’s customary bureaucratic gauntlet before adoption: the EC must still formulate a formal proposal based on the EASA committee’s affirmative vote, then pass it to the European Parliament for acceptance. If the Parliament consents, the regulation goes to Europe’s Council of Ministers for their signature. If all that transpires without interruption, adoption of the rule could happen by November or December. However, the timing of final implementation depends on the airlines and their governments. “We still have two years to fight it before it’s implemented,” said Voorbach.

While the ECA opposes the rule on several grounds, it considers one of the most dangerous elements the language that governs nighttime duty-hour limits and the times at which the nighttime rules take effect.

“All the scientific studies said very clearly that the human body cannot work more than ten hours during night,” insisted Voorbach. “In the EASA proposal the minimum is eleven hours, but if you start at four o’clock [in the afternoon], for example, you can still work twelve-and-a-half hours.”

In fact, the proposal calls for a complicated set of limits that change in half-hour intervals and vary depending on numbers of sectors flown and the degree to which a crewmember has “acclimatized” to whatever time zone he or she happens to be in. However, according to Voorbach, the committee misinterpreted the recommendations of leading scientists in the field of fatigue study to match its agenda. “That is just playing with science, not including it in the way it should be included,” he said.

Other aspects of the proposed rule the ECA finds objectionable include differences in allowances for early-morning starts and late-night arrivals, depending on the country. “For example, in Germany people wake up early, so to them it’s not a problem to start early,” said Voorbach. “But since most airlines around the world start their duties early, everybody will say, ‘OK, we are an early country and we don’t have to follow the regulations for early starts.’

“We say the rules are there; early starts and late arrivals are disruptive; the science says you have to take into account that you’d then have limited working hours because of that and more rest.”