A European Parliament committee opposed plans for tougher regulation of airline pilots’ flying hours including shorter nighttime duty, increasing the likelihood that the full assembly will throw out the new safety rules in October.
The European Union assembly’s transport committee endorsed a veto recommendation by left-of-center members who said they want even stricter limits to guard against fatigue. The whole 766-seat Parliament must give its verdict by Oct. 25. The EU’s national governments approved the new standards in July.
“I am overjoyed,” Michael Cramer, a Green member of the EU Parliament who helped sponsor the motion against the measures, told reporters after the transport committee’s 20-to-13 vote today in Brussels. Cramer, who comes from Germany, predicted the whole Parliament would follow the committee recommendation.
The draft EU law would reduce airline crews’ working hours at night to a maximum of 11 hours from the current ceiling of 11 hours and 45 minutes. The existing EU daytime flight-time limit of 13 hours, with an extra hour possible twice a week, would be unchanged.
At present the U.K., with a nighttime ceiling of 11 hours and 15 minutes, is the only member state with a limit below the current EU maximum, according to the European Commission, the 28-nation bloc’s regulatory arm that proposed the legislation. Opponents on the EU Parliament’s transport committee, backed by unions including the European Cockpit Association and the British Airline Pilots’ Association, want a night-duty limit of no more than 10 hours.
The transport panel’s verdict is “a victory for flight safety in Europe,” Philip von Schoeppenthau, secretary general of the European Cockpit Association, said in an interview afterward. “We want 10 hours.” The group sent about 30 uniformed pilots to the Parliament’s transport committee, where they broke out in applause after the vote.
Von Schoeppenthau, pilots who showed up in Brussels as part of the veto lobbying campaign and EU Parliament transport-committee members including Cramer who voted against the planned rules said it was preferable to reject the existing draft law and demand a new, improved proposal from the commission than to endorse what’s on the table and seek to tighten it at a later stage.
The new law would also introduce EU-wide limits on how much time crews could be on standby and then on flight duty. The combination of standby periods at airports and flight duty would face a single 16-hour cap. Standby arrangements at home would be limited to 16 hours, with all the time spent on standby above six hours being counted as flight duty.
In addition, the draft rules would extend the required rest periods for crews after duty from a minimum of 10 hours in any case to at least 14 hours for flights that cross more than three time zones.
Furthermore, time off after a long roundtrip could rise to as many as five days from two days. This would depend on how long crew members stayed in the overseas city before returning. The longer the stay before the return, the more days off crew members would receive after getting home because the risk of jet lag would be higher.
The Association of European Airlines representing network carriers including Air France-KLM Group, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and British Airways supports the draft legislation, saying it’s preferable to a more fragmented legislative framework for flying hours in Europe.
The new law is based on 2012 recommendations from the European Aviation Safety Agency. Under decision-making procedures for these types of rules, the full EU Parliament has a three-month window in which to reject them or let them proceed. The Parliament’s scrutiny period for the planned flying rules ends on Oct. 25.