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Tougher EU Airline-Pilot Flight Law Backed by Parliament

The European Parliament approved plans for tougher regulation of airline pilots’ flying hours including shorter nighttime duty, clearing the way for the new safety rules to enter into force in about two years.

The European Union assembly today in Strasbourg, France, threw out a veto recommendation spearheaded by left-of-center members who had called for even stricter limits to guard against fatigue. The EU’s national governments endorsed the new standards in July.

“This proposal is a considerable improvement of the current status quo in a number of member states,” said Gesine Meissner, a German member of the 28-nation EU Parliament’s pro-business Liberal group.

The draft EU law will 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, will 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 bloc’s regulatory arm that proposed the legislation.

The new law will 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 faces a single 16-hour cap. Standby arrangements at home will be limited to 16 hours, with all the time spent on standby above six hours being counted as flight duty.

Rest Periods

In addition, the draft rules will 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 will depend on how long crew members stay in the overseas city before returning. The longer the stay before the return, the more days off crew members will 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 is preferable to a more fragmented legislative framework for flying hours in Europe.

‘Crucial Milestone’

“Today’s vote is a crucial milestone in Europe’s aviation safety,” said Athar Husain Khan, acting secretary general of the Brussels-based association. “One, harmonized set of rules for the common aviation market will benefit passengers’ safety.”

The new law is based on 2012 recommendations from the European Aviation Safety Agency, known as EASA. The EU Parliament had a three-month window in which to reject the new rules or let them proceed, with the scrutiny period ending this month.

Opponents in the assembly, backed by unions including the European Cockpit Association and the British Airline Pilots’ Association, had wanted a night-duty limit of no more than 10 hours. These lawmakers picked up support on Sept. 30 from the Parliament’s transport committee, whose endorsement of the veto recommendation increased the chances that the full 766-seat assembly would reject the draft rules.

Safety Provisions

The political tide turned yesterday when the commission offered written assurances about several safety provisions -- including nighttime duty -- to the European Transport Workers’ Federation. That prompted a number of members of the Socialist group, the Parliament’s second-largest faction, to join Christian Democrats and Liberals in supporting the new standards.

In a letter to the transport workers’ union, the commission said it would ask EASA to prescribe that airlines apply “appropriate fatigue risk management” for flight-duty periods longer than 10 hours at night.

The commission also pledged, with regard to standby at home, to request that EASA adopt specific standards in such a way that no crew member will be on flight duty after more than 18 hours awake. In addition, the commission vowed to involve aircrew representatives in “all future developments” regarding flight-time limits.

The veto attempt in the Parliament failed by a vote of 387 to 218, with 66 abstentions.

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