British pilots’ efforts to avoid changes to their schedules have crash landed after the European Parliament (EP) voted to move forward on standardizing pilots’ flying hours across the European Union.
The pilots claim the regulations have loopholes that would extend their shifts so long that it would pose a danger to passengers due to fatigue, but proponents of the plan disagree and say the move would improve flight safety by implementing the same rules for all 28 member states of the European economic and political union.
Last week, the EP’s Transport and Tourism Committee voted against proposed rules on standardized rest times for pilots and crew and asked members of the parliament to come up with another proposal, “as a matter of urgency.”
Under parliamentary rules, the committee needed an absolute two-thirds majority of the full parliamentary vote, but on Wednesday only 218 of the 766 MPs supported the committee’s call to change the draft rules.
The new rules include limiting shifts to 11 hours on night-time flights before mandatory rest periods and that total shifts should not exceed 16 hours, including standby periods followed by flight duty.
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But the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said other rules in the package are a result of “dodgy last-minute backroom deals” made between parliament and the airline industry and require British pilots to abide by no limits to the number of early starts – shifts that begin between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Under current British rules pilots are limited to three consecutive early starts to avoid cumulative fatigue.
The Balpa said an EU rule requiring only two pilots for long-haul flights (up to 14 hours) means if a pilot or co-pilot becomes unwell, the other flyer will end up exceeding flight time limits. The union also said the EU rule would allow pilots to work 110 hours in 14 days, compared to 95 hours under British flight safety rules. The Balpa listed seven other EU rules that it says lower British flight safety standards.
The U.K. government and the country’s Civil Aviation Authority support the proposed rules. The rules can now be put into effect unless the European Council of Ministers decides to vote to confirm Wednesday’s vote.