British Airways Faces Pilot Strike Threat Over New Fatigue Rules

Pilots for British Airways and other U.K. carriers may increasingly scrap flights to protest against European rules that would ease limits on time spent in the cockpit, the union representing crew said.

The actions could start in 2015 if crew fail to convince European legislators to block the extension of flight time limits, Jim McAuslan, head of the British Airline Pilots Association told reporters in London today. Pilots may increasingly invoke their discretion not to fly over safety concerns, he said.

The European Aviation Safety Agency is due to submit a set of rules on flight time limitations as it seeks to end years of wrangling between airlines and the cockpit over the terms. Carriers have been seeking greater flexibility in their use of crew, with pilots saying a relaxation would jeopardize safety.

“I could see this becoming a battleground company by company,” McAuslan said. “We believe fatigue threatens flight safety and will affect pilots.”

The new regulations give airlines more leeway in scheduling crew, even if they don’t add to time in the cockpit, McAuslan said. Pilots could be asked to fly more hours in a two-week period than is currently the case, and hard limits on duty time may also be relaxed, he said.

Timing of strikes would depend on the degree to which airlines try to use the rules to adjust pilot schedules, McAuslan said. The regulations may come into force in January, he said.

The European Parliament is due to take up the piloting rules in October or November and will likely approve the EASA proposal, McAuslan said.

Balpa has set aside about 10 million pounds ($15.5 million) to finance legal challenges against the rules next year in British and European courts. It will also contest the rulemaking process through a European ombudsman, although a ruling may not be forthcoming until the end of 2014, he said.

“We have tried not to make this an industrial issue but there is a groundswell of resistance,” McAuslan said.