Flight Time Limitations exist to ensure the safe operation of commercial aircraft and to avoid the onset of pilot fatigue. Pilot fatigue is a state of serious tiredness and exhaustion that reduces a pilot’s ability to operate safely. 15-20% of fatal accidents related to human errors have listed pilot fatigue as a contributing factor, including the tragic accident of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in 2009. BALPA has continuously sought to protect high safety standards of Flight Time Limitations in the UK.
The UK has one of the best safety records in Europe thanks, in part, to a strict set of ‘flight time limitations’ regulations (CAP 371) – The Avoidance of Fatigue in Air Crews – which is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
European Flight Time Limitations
In 2010 the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed a new set of flight and duty time limitations and rest requirements (FTL) for commercial air transport across Europe which was passed by the European Parliament in October 2013. The new rules are expected to be fully implemented by early 2016.
From 2010 to 2013 pilots’ association right across Europe campaigned against the new European-wide proposals; believing they would be a major backwards step for UK aviation safety. EASA failed to include any scientific and medical evidence throughout the drafting of the regulations, going so far as to ignore the CAA’s former advisor on fatigue and leading scientist Mick Spencer, who expressed significant concern. Throughout the campaign BALPA said that safety arguments had been ignored by EASA and that the new rules could make flying more dangerous. Crucially, the proposals could see pilots working double the number of early starts in a row compared to the current UK standards, being on duty 15% more over two weeks, flying longer at night than the scientists say is safe, and potentially allowing pilots to land aircraft having been awake for 22 hours+.
BALPA succeeded in raising its concerns at the very highest levels, including a House of Commons Transport Select Committee inquiry in February 2012, after which MPs agreed that the proposed EU rules on the working hours and conditions for pilots must be improved or “safety could be at risk”.
In a follow-up report by the Select Committee the MPS expressed “concerned about several areas” of the Commission’s draft regulation and concluded that it was “vital that high aviation safety standards are maintained”.
On Monday 30th September 2013 the European Parliament’s own specialist Transport Committee voted to REJECT the European Commission’s Flight Time Limitations proposals. However, despite that initial rejection, the European Commission chose not to follow specialist opinion and voted to accept the proposals in full on the 9th October 2013.
THE FATIGUE FIGHT CONTINUES....
British pilots want to make every flight a safe flight but there are many areas in the rules that still cause us concern. Pilot fatigue is an ongoing issue amongst our members, so much so that a 2013 BALPA membership poll revealed that 56% of pilots admitting to falling asleep in the cockpit.
The new FTL rules will be coming into force soon. As pilots we have to accept that, but we remain extremely concerned about the impact of these new rules. Frankly, the problem of fatigue is going nowhere, and neither is our resolve to tackle it.
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