Ahead of a crucial European Parliament vote on new EU rules on pilot flying hours next week (Monday 30 September) that will cut UK safety standards, a new poll shows that more than half of British pilots admit to having fallen asleep on the flight deck and eight out of ten believe their flying abilities have been compromised by tiredness in the past six months. Also, three quarters of British pilots have said they do not trust the European regulator in its role as the aviation safety body for Europe.

The survey of 500 commercial pilots conducted by ComRes on behalf of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) found that:
  • 56% of pilots admit to having fallen asleep on the flight deck and, even more worryingly, of those who admitted this nearly 1 in 3 (29%) said they woke to find the other pilot asleep;
  • 43% said they believed their abilities have been compromised at least once a month in the last 6 months by tiredness, with 84% saying it has been compromised during the past 6 months;
  • 31% don’t believe their airline has a culture that lends itself to reporting tiredness concerns with only a half (51%) saying they believed their airline Chief Executive would back them if they refused to fly because of tiredness.
  • Unprompted, 49% said pilot tiredness was the biggest threat to flight safety, three times more than any other threat.
The new EU rules will dilute existing high UK safety standards and introduce weaker EU rules, which lack scientific support or evidence. For instance the new rules will permit a pilot to land an aircraft having been awake for 22 hours or more, with a level of tiredness that is the equivalent of being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying. Nine out of ten members of the British public said this was of concern to them in a recent poll. Dangerously the EU rules will also give new powers to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) allowing it to change the rules in the future without the support or scrutiny of politicians in Europe or national governments.

BALPA has called on MEPs voting in the EU Transport Committee on Monday (30 September) to back a motion that would require the European Commission to withdraw its unsafe proposals and to subject them to proper scientific and medical scrutiny. BALPA has also made a complaint of maladministration to the European Ombudsman and argued that the rules should have been based on scientific evidence from the outset.

Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of BALPA, said:

‘Making every flight a safe flight is the number one priority for British pilots who have helped establish some of the highest safety standards in Europe. Tiredness is already a major challenge for pilots who are deeply concerned that unscientific new EU rules will cut UK standards and lead to increased levels of tiredness, which has been shown to be a major contributory factor in air accidents

‘A European regulator that lacks scientific and medical expertise is being allowed to tear up UK flight safety rules and is being supported in this by the Conservative UK Government Minister and the UK regulator. Why this Government is bending the knee to Europe rather than the wisdom of the piloting profession with over 40 million flying hours experience is as baffling as it is dangerous.’

Flight limitations background

On Monday 30 September MEPs in the EU Transport and Tourism Select Committee will vote on new “flight time limitations” proposals, which will replace the current regulations for the UK. British transport ministers will also vote on the proposals in the EU Council of Ministers, as will all MEPs in a full parliamentary session. The rules must be backed by MEPs and Ministers to go ahead.

British pilots believe that they have been let down by the UK Government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK regulator responsible for keeping our skies safe. They also believe that the CAA has totally failed in its duty to stand up for UK safety levels by not insisting upon a full scientific evaluation of the proposals and is backing them despite the lack of any supporting scientific evidence. In comparison, the Dutch Parliament has called on its government to reject the proposal on the basis that they wish to protect their own high quality safety laws at a national level.

In a recent follow-up report on the EU proposals the British House of Commons’ Transport Select Committee expressed serious concerns about the lack of evidence underpinning the rules and said that ‘there are legitimate concerns that while the regulations may lead to safety improvements elsewhere, there may be a diminution of standards in the UK.’
The European Ombudsman is carrying out an investigation into whether the way the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) formed the rules was so flawed that it amounted to maladministration.

BALPA is urging British Ministers, MEPs and European law-makers to scrap the dangerously flawed rules and begin the process again based on scientific evidence. British pilots are insisting that important aspects of flight safety, such as the risks of pilot tiredness, are based on medical evidence and expertise.

To date, EASA has refused to provide a single medically-qualified or fatigue scientist to support the proposed rules or details of the relevant expertise of the people who put the rules together.


• ComRes interviewed 500 BALPA members by telephone between 27th August – 6th September 2013. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables available at www.ComRes.co.uk

• Results of a ComRes poll for BALPA in August showing the public concern around the proposed changes to UK flight safety are available here.

• The European Commission’s final recommendation on Flight and Duty Time Limitations, based on EASA’s ‘opinion’, is available here.

• Being awake for 22 hours will be possible under the new rules due to the way that home standby hours will be calculated.  For instance: a pilot wakes from sleep at 6 am in order to get ready and travel to the airport for 8 am. However, the pilot is called several times to have his reporting time moved back to 4 pm. After this, the pilot could fly for a maximum of 12.25 hours. On this basis the pilot could be landing the aircraft after being awake for more than 22 hrs. In fact, a further 2 hours discretion could be added to this figure if something went wrong during the flight taking his or her total time of wakefulness to a possible 24.5 hours at the time of landing.

• In addition to the standby provisions, there are many other concerns such as pilots operating longer haul flights (e.g. west coast USA) with only 2 crew rather than the current 3; being forced to work up to 7 early starts in a row, up from 3 currently; increasing night flying hours to 11 hours, above the 10 hour limit recommended by scientific evidence.

• BALPA’s full complaint to the Ombudsman can be found here. In summary our complaint is:

• Given the terms of reference for the work involved in revising flight time limitations, scientific advice should have had a more prominent role in the rulemaking process.

• The rulemaking group was constituted by EASA in a way such that the Group did not have the capability to fully undertake its assigned task (and EASA failed to provide evidence of qualifications on request).

• EASA took no steps to record, nor manage, conflicts of interest in the rulemaking group.

Further info/interviews call Richard Toomer 07889 087 943 or email richardtoomer@balpa.org