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The first year of EASA FTLs

by Simon Roberts Scheduling Specialist

Aside from speaking to pilots from across the industry about their experiences flying under the new EASA Flight Time Limitations, we’ve also looked at what key issues have been raised with the BALPA Scheduling Team since the new rules became mandatory in February last year.

The 18-hour rule

Early last year, we were made aware by a number of Company Councils that the rule designed to avoid an individual being awake for more than 18 hours when a standby and FDP were combined was not working [CS FTL.1.225 (b) (2)]. We were led to believe that some operators saw the rule as ‘soft’ so decided not to adhere to it. The CAA were contacted, and confirmed our view that it was NOT a ‘soft’ rule, and that operators needed to create procedures to ensure that the 18-hour rule could not be broken. The regulator went on to highlight the fact that each UK operator will have included procedures in this area when they submitted their new EASA FTL documentation for ratification, so the processes should still be relatively fresh in their minds.

We have also observed that some operators have seemingly been better than others at designing and implementing processes that do not lead to more than 18 hours awake. As an example, we have noticed a trend towards utilising a single standby to cover both the early and late-wave departures. The standby allocated on its own is unlikely to cause any significant problems until such a time when a late duty is assigned from an early standby, at which point the 18 hours could rapidly be approaching. Disappointingly, we have been made aware of this happening on a far too frequent basis over the summer, which means we will need to continue to push for the pressure testing of frequent offenders’ procedures by the regulator.

Transition between late (night) and early duties

During the summer, one BALPA Company Council reported an issue that seemed to show their operator endeavouring to redefine the ‘early start’ definition which is a hard law, implementing rule.

Rosters were being planned with no local nights rest between FDPs that transitioned from a night duty – a duty that encroaches any period between the hours of 02:00 – 04:59, and an early start duty which starts between the hours 05:00 – 06:59. This is a requirement under rule CS FTL.1.235 (a) (1).

In effect, the operator had extended the early start definition by including a period of time prior to 05:00 which essentially made a night duty a ‘deep early start’ thereby avoiding the need (in the operator’s opinion) for a local nights rest. This was raised with the regulator who agreed with BALPA that the practice was not in line with the EASA FTL rules or the operator’s own FTL scheme. The operator swiftly stopped the practice and are now assessing their commercial plan for summer 2018.


Commander’s discretion

Under the EASA FTL rules, commander’s discretion should only be used in exceptional circumstances when unforeseen circumstances ‘start at or after the reporting time’. However, we were made aware through the summer period that some operators were ignoring these words and delivering a request for the use of commander’s discretion to the pilot at report time.

Rule clarity was sought from the CAA who stated that a crew member should not be arriving for a duty to find the operator requesting the use of discretion at report time; and that if a significant delay was known about in advance, the operator should consider delaying the crew member at home.

Whilst the regulator clarified the intent of this section of the rule, we are now seeing pressure being exerted on the ICAO definition of ‘unforeseen circumstances’. As far as we are concerned, there seems to be little reason for an operator to do this other than to seek additional flexibility from their crews. We have highlighted this to the regulator and will continue to monitor closely.

All of these three issues above came about during the first full summer of EASA FTLs, but we expect further pressure to be placed on the prescriptive rules in the future, so if you see something that doesn’t seem right or you feel is pushing the intent of the rules, BALPA members can raise any issue with your Company Council pilot reps or liaise with your Scheduling Team at BALPA House.