EU MPs reject move to harmonise pilots’ working hours

EU MPs have rejected the move to harmonise pilots working hours across the EU, The Telegraph has reported.

The harmonisation move could have effectively increased the working hours for British pilots. The vote by the EU and Transport and Tourism Select Committee was hailed by pilots unions, including the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), which had warned that it could put passenger safety at risk. However, the vote was condemned by the aviation industry.

‘We are really surprised after two years of consultation it can be rejected,’ said a spokesman for the European Low Fares Airline Association, whose members include Ryanair and easyJet. ‘There were penalties for airlines, which we accepted because of the benefit of harmonising arrangements across Europe.’

Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner, said, ‘This vote puts at risk key measures to improve aviation safety. Safety is the first priority for the EU and the sole objective of this revision. Pilot fatigue is a very serious issue and that’s why there are already strong EU rules in place.”

The all-party Transport Select Committee at Westminster, which shared BALPA’s concerns, said that the proposed changes would have led to a lowering of standards in the UK.

Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of BALPA, welcomed the decision saying: ‘British pilots with 40 million hours of flying experience between them and by the public, 90 percent of whom are concerned that a pilot could be landing their aircraft having been awake for 22 hours.

‘The commission must now go back to the drawing board and work with pilots and scientists to develop rules on flying time and tiredness that are based on evidence and expert experience.’

The vote comes after a BALPA survey found that nearly half its members had fallen asleep in the cockpit, with one in three saying that they had woken up to find their co-pilot also asleep. BALPA has warned the proposed changes would lead to pilots being awake for 22 hours if standby hours are taken into account, which could risk passenger safety.

The EU had said the changes were essential to ensure airlines in all 27 member states operated on a level playing field. According to proposed rules, pilots could work a maximum of 110 hours in a two-week period, more than the 95-hour limit under British regulations. At nights the flight limit would be extended to 11 hours from the current 10-hour limit.

Though endorsed by ministers, euro-MPs have voted by 20 to 13 to reject the move. A final decision is expected at the full session of the European Parliament later this year. If approved, the new rules drawn up by the European Aviation Safety Agency would have come into force in 2015.