Pilots to protest over EU flight duty proposals

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Unions representing airline pilots and flight attendants plan a European-wide demonstration on Tuesday (22 January) against proposed EU regulations on flight duty times, though officials say the action is unlikely to disrupt travel.

The European Transport Workers Federation, which represents cabin crew members, and the European Cockpit Association (ECA), representing pilots unions, announced the “walkout for aviation safety” to make their claim that recommended working hours for flight crews are too lax.

The recommendations from European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are under review by the European Commission, which is expected to present a legislative proposal this year to update a 2008 aviation regulation. The agency’s opinion calls for an 11-hour limit on duty that includes nighttime hours, an hour more than the cap sought by trade unions.

“Before the European Commission makes its final approval based on the opinion, we would like to show that this is wrong,” ECA President Nico Voorbach told EURACTIV.

He said the walkout is intended to tell politicians, EASA and passengers that the proposals “will endanger flying for everyone.” Unions also staged demonstrations last year outside the agency's Cologne headquarters.

Shorter night duty hours

EASA officials contend that the 30 new regulations they proposed to the Commission on 1 October would make flying safer and go well beyond current standards. The recommendations include:

  • Reducing the time pilots can be on duty if their shift involves nighttime flying from 11 hours and 45 minutes to 11 hours, with a nine-hour cap if duty time involves multiple take-offs and landings.
  • Additional weekly rest times for pilots who have worked “disruptive schedules” – such as those involving periods of long flight delays or multiple start times.
  • Guaranteed in-flight rest accommodations outside the cockpit for longer-haul flights.

The Association of European Airlines (AEA), which represents 32 main carriers, contends that the pilots are using safety as an excuse to lobby for fewer working hours.

“What’s on the table today is the result of a very tough review,” Vincent De Vroey, general manager for technical operations at AEA, said of the EASA proposal. “It is a more strict requirement than we had before in Europe because the flight duty periods is reduced from 11 hours, 45 minutes to 11 hours.”

De Vroey acknowledged that airlines initially opposed the shorter duty time but accepted the EASA recommendation, saying “airlines will never compromise safety.”

In a holding pattern

Voorbach’s group, however, is holding out for the 10-hour cap on night duty and sees little room for middle ground.

Crew members say the night restrictions are of particular concern, with studies showing the likelihood of accidents rising sharply the longer a pilot spends at the controls.

In November 2008, a report submitted to EASA by Mobeus Aviation consultancy in Zürich argued that pilots can lose awareness after 10 hours and recommended flight duty periods for crew “should not exceed 10 hours overnight.”

Trade union officials say Tuesday morning’s labour action is a symbolic protest that is likely to be carried out at airports in most EU countries as well as Croatia and Iceland. In most cases, the demonstration will involve distributing information, or staging media events. Still, disruptions are possible.

“Some of our members are planning industrial actions because they are annoyed by the whole thing, but in principle it will be public-friendly,” said Voorbach.

A pilot for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Voorbach said he would be taking a hotel break during the labour action after a duty flight to São Paulo, Brazil.

Pilots operating in the EU can now be on duty up to 13 hours during the day and 11 hours and 45 minutes if their shift involves night-flying, typically defined as 2 a.m. to 4:59 a.m.

On 1 October 2012, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) tabled regulations to tighten existing rules, chopping up to 45 minutes off the maximum time European pilots can fly when their shifts involve nighttime hours.

The proposed 11-hour cap is among several safety suggestions due to be handed to the European Commission to strengthen a 2008 regulation.

Trade unions for pilots and cabin crews want to cap night duty to 10 hours.

  • 22 Jan.: Pilots and cabin crews plan a 'walkout for aviation safety
  • By end of 2013: Revisions to the 2008 regulation on flight safety expected to be adopted into law
  • Mid-2015: Full implementation of new rules

European Union

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