Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pilots Warn That Europe's New Long Flight Shifts Endanger Passengers

New regulations specify that pilots can now fly up to 11 hours straight at night, and 16 hours at a stretch during the day. One pilots' union official calls the new rules the biggest setback in air travel safety since World War II.
BERLIN - A European proposal to increase working hours for commercial airline pilots is the worst setback for air safety in generations, according to the German pilots’ association, Vereinigung Cockpit. The pilots' group is threatening legal action against the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to contest the new binding regulations, due to come into force on March 19.

"The regulations are the biggest step back in air safety since World War II", said Jörg Handwerg, spokesman for the pilots. He added that the new EASA regulations went contrary to all scientific studies conducted about the number of hours pilots could safely work without suffering from exhaustion.

Pilots accuse Cologne-based EASA of pandering to the economic interests of the airline companies. Over half of EASA dues, some 90 million euros, are paid by airline companies and plane manufacturers.

The new regulations specify that pilots on night flights can work 11 hours in a row, even though three different independent reports mandated by EASA itself recommend a maximum of 10 hours, which is how long pilots may presently fly on night flights. During the day, pilots can presently fly for up to 15 hours in a row; under the new regulations that would be increased to 16 hours. Parallel to this, EASA wants rest periods between such stints to be reduced to 7.5 hours from the present 10.

A letter from VC chairman Winfried Streicher to German transport minister Peter Ramsauer, of which Die Welt has obtained a copy, points out that: "Accident analyses have shown that after a pilot has been flying for 12 hours straight, the relative risk of a crash increases sharply, and that flight time of more than 13 hours means 5.5 times higher risk than if the pilot had only flown nine hours."

Read the full story in German by Per Hinrichs

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