European airline safety regulators are seeking tighter limits on the hours flight crews may work, but the leading pilots association says the restrictions don’t go far enough.
The proposal from the European Aviation Safety Agency would restrict flight crews to 12 hours of night flying or 14 hours of daytime flying per day–including time in the airport waiting to fly. This would standardize the rules across different airlines and European countries.
Scientific studies indicate that pilot fatigue plays a role in roughly 20 percent of all worldwide plane crashes. A fatigue-related crash near Buffalo, N.Y., killed 50 people in 2009.
In response to the Buffalo disaster, the Federal Aviation Administration in September proposed stricter controls on work hours for U.S. pilots, with nine hours the maximum at night (along with a maximum of three consecutive nights on the job), and 13 hours the daytime limit. It could be months, if not years, before the rules become final.
Under present rules, American pilots can be fly up to 16 hours in a single 24-hour period, with a mandatory eight-hour rest period between shifts. Pilots have long complained that the eight-hour break often allows little actual sleep between two grueling spells in the cockpit.
Meanwhile, the European Cockpit Association, the pilots group, says it is not satisfied with the new European proposal.
“[T]he text proposed by EASA is more than disappointing,” says the association’s president, Capt. Martin Chalk. “The Agency had a unique opportunity to present a solid, science-based and safety-oriented [flight-time limitation] law… Yet, this opportunity has been missed, which puts the EU at the bottom end of international safety regulators.”
Representatives of the pilots group accused the safety agency of wilting under pressure from airline lobbyists, who favor longer hours.