European Pilots Win Battle Over Flight Time Limitations

Gavin Francis, Staff Writer
Air Line Pilot, September 2004, p.34

Airline pilots in Europe celebrated recently when transportation ministers failed to approve a plan to standardize flight time limitations among European carriers. The decision came after more than 100 pilots from 20 countries demonstrated outside the ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, which took place in June. The proposal will be returned to a committee for further review.

Pilot groups opposed the proposed legislation that sought to impose flight time limitations many felt to be unsafe. The plan could have led to a flight time limit of as much as 14 hours per day for airline pilots.

Critics feared that the legislation, which was first put forward by British politician Brian Simpson, a former member of the European Parliament who chaired its transportation committee, would lead to liberalizing flight time limitations in line with European countries that have much less restrictive limits. Simpson lost his seat in a recent bid for reelection.

While pilot groups say that they are in favor of standardizing flight time limitations, they want to make sure that such a policy is based on sound scientific and medical data. Scientists and medical experts questioned the way policymakers determined their flight time hours, some experts even suggesting that concentration abilities of fatigued crewmembers could be equivalent to those of people whose blood-alcohol levels would be illegal for driving in some jurisdictions. They argue that an honest assessment of human performance capabilities is necessary to guarantee safety.

The decision of the transportation ministers allows policymakers to reevaluate the plan and amend it accordingly. When the matter will be taken up again is unclear. Agenda priorities are set principally by the EU presidency, which rotates among the member states every 6 months.

European policymakers have sought to standardize flight time limitations across the European Union for more than a decade now. Since 1989, several attempts at harmonization have all failed due largely to differences in regulations among member countries, as well as competing business and political interests.

The European Parliament passed the most recent proposal; it was awaiting approval by the European Council, which shares legislative decision-making responsibilities. The intended law would have affected pilot groups from member EU countries differently, but would have had a detrimental effect on pilots with more-stringent flight time rules. The plan would have increased flight time for British pilots by as many as 3 hours per day.

Airline pilot groups in Europe had strongly resisted the idea.

Last year, the European Cockpit Association, a coalition of more than 33,000 airline pilots, launched a Europe-wide campaign to promote air transportation safety and specifically to address flight time limitation harmonization issues.

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, which represents more than 100,000 pilots in more than 90 countries, supported the action, saying that it, too, had concerns about what it felt was an inadequate proposal to regulate flight duty periods.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, the international authority on aviation matters, is currently developing its own policy on flight time limitations, and many pilot groups hope for a coordinated effort with ICAO, which might result in a European policy that would be consistent with those of countries outside of Europe.

ALPA is monitoring this situation closely in view of possible future efforts to harmonize U.S. and European regulations regarding flight time limitations.