Monday, August 26, 2013

Public 'backs pilots' on work hours after it is revealed they could be awake for 22 hours

Air passengers are concerned about proposed changes to flying rules that could lead to an aircraft being flown by a pilot who has been awake for 22 hours.

Nine out of 10 people are worried about the changes being voted on by MEPs in October, according to a survey by British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa).

The new rules could lead to pilots operating long haul flights with two rather than three crew members and working up to seven early starts in a row.

The changes to pilots' duty times and rest requirements have been proposed by the EU’s European Aviation Safety Agency's (EASA) and are aimed at ‘harmonising’ limits on pilots’ hours across the EU.

Under the new rules, pilots could be landing commercial jets after 22 hours awake - including 11 hours flying, plus stand-by time and travel to the airport.

Under the current UK rules, pilots work a maximum of three early starts in a row and a maximum of 95 hours in 14 days. EASA is proposing to change this to seven early starts in a row and a maximum of 110 hours in 14 days.

Three pilots are needed on many long-haul flights but EASA has proposed that only two pilots are needed on some of the longest flights. Balpa says this will mean that the pilots have no opportunity to rest in flight before the landing.

There are also currently many restrictions around pilots being called for duty on days off so that they can plan rest but, under the proposed changes, they can be called at any time on any day with no restrictions.

The number of hours pilots can be on home standby will increase from 12 hours to 16 hours, with flight duty starting to clock up after eight hours instead of six.

Jim McAuslan, Balpa's general secretary, said: "The British public are understandably concerned about their pilots being awake for 22 hours before landing a plane under new EU rules. Evidence shows this is similar to being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying.

"The time is running out for our ministers, MEPs, the UK regulator and MPs to take urgent action and reject these unsafe EU rules to ensure that the skies above Britain remain among the safest in the world."

The European Commission (EC) said safety was the only objective of its proposal to revise the current EU rules in relation to flight time limitations (FTL).

An EC spokesman said: "The Commission is determined to see stronger, safer rules applying across Europe in relation to FTL.

"This is the principle presiding the Commission's proposal to revise the current EU FTL rules.

"The Commission believes that the proposal presented to the Council and the Parliament in July will bring about major improvements across Europe for the safety of our citizens and flight crew.

"This proposal includes a number of clarifications and adjustments addressing issues identified by aircrew unions, by airlines, by the European Parliament, and by Member States.

"The proposal will not result in lowering the safety standards in any Member State."

A Commons’ Transport Select committee warned that 22 hours of wakefulness was ‘an extraordinary figure' - particularly for night flying - that raised levels of fatigue equivalent to being ‘drunk.’ UK pilots can currently go up to 18 hours without sleep.

The committee said it was concerned that "the new regulations are setting a standard that accepts a higher level of fatigue more generally and, if not managed properly, that could well lead to a situation where the accident risk will increase."

The Department for Transport insisted the EU blueprint would neither compromise safety nor increase the risk of pilot fatigue.

However, the Government did accept some of the MP’s findings - including a recommendation to investigate ‘the potential under-reporting of pilot fatigue’.

Ministers said they would also be seeking a strengthening of specific EU ‘fatigue’ rules surrounding flight duties and rest periods and ‘stricter limits’ on how frequently airlines could use discretion to exceed maximum levels.

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