, STRASBOURG, Oct 9 – The European Parliament on Wednesday approved a controversial new shorter flying hours regime championed by the European Commission and airlines but opposed by many pilots who claim it does nothing to improve safety.
The vote — 387 for, 281 against with 66 abstentions — was “a victory for common sense,” EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said after parliament reversed the verdict of its own transport committee last week.
Approval “opens the way for new stricter EU-wide rules on pilot fatigue. It will bring better protection of passengers and safer working conditions for crew,” Kallas said in a statement.
The centre piece is a reduction in the maximum pilot flying time, including night duty, to 11 hours from the current 11 hours 45 minutes.
Pilot groups had wanted a maximum of 10 hours and a reduction in their stand-by roster — the period during which they can be on duty overall, including waiting time — which they say now comes in at 22 hours.
“Would you get on a plane if you knew that the pilot had to be on duty for up to 22 hours?” Nico Voorbach, head of the European Cockpit Association said ahead of the vote.
British pilots — whose stand-by limit is 14 hours — have been among the most vociferous in their opposition, charging that the new rules pose a safety risk and had been forced through.
“(We) want to make every flight a safe flight and are deeply concerned that these unsafe new EU rules will put the lives of passengers at risk,” Jim McAuslan, head of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), said in a statement on its website.
“The UK government and flight safety regulator have helped the European Commission force through these rules by dodgy last minute backroom deals, which have been made up as they have gone along.
“This has been a botched process by the EU from start to finish,” McAuslan added.
A survey commissioned by BALPA ahead of the transport committee vote last week showed 56 percent of British pilots had reported falling asleep in the cockpit and 29 percent had woken up to find their co-pilot asleep.
The poll of 500 pilots also found that nearly half cited tiredness as the biggest threat to safety, while a third said their airline’s culture discouraged them reporting the problem.
In his statement, Kallas highlighted several other provisions of the new regime, all aimed at “improving crew protection against fatigue, offering them safer and better working conditions.”
The maximum number of flying hours will be cut from 1,300 to 1,000 in any 12 consecutive months, weekly rest periods are increased by half a day to two while the maximum stand-by period will be 16 hours — not the 22 claimed by pilots and compared with up to 26 hours in some countries such as Spain.
The Association of European Airlines welcomed the vote as a major step forward.
“Today’s vote is a crucial milestone in Europe’s aviation safety,” the AEA said in a statement.
“We applaud that despite misleading information on pilots’ fatigue, MEPs realised that one, harmonised set of rules for the common aviation market will benefit passengers’ safety.”
The rules will come into force at the end of this year be fully applicable in two years time, with a review in due course, the Commission said.