Flight time limitations (FTL) regulation is a subject that seriously affects airline pilots, cabin crew, and their employers, so it matters that Europe is considering changing its existing FTL rules in the light of scientific evidence on the causes and effects of fatigue.
The airlines like the existing FTLs, known unattractively as EU Ops Sub-Part Q. The scientific answers to European Aviation Safety Agency questions about fatigue indicate that Sub-Part Q needs trimming in a way the airlines deplore and the pilots approve of. That's where we stand today.
Having just chaired a 2h 45min conference about FTL at the European Parliament in Brussels I have learned a thing or two about Europe's greatest talking shop. Also - fortunately - I have learned a thing or two about the way FTL regulation is likely to shake down this side of the Atlantic.
The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), which arranged the conference I chaired, wanted to stimulate - and thus learn from - a debate among all the FTL stakeholders (airlines, pilots and cabin crew, aviation regulators), the contributors of data to the debate (scientists), those who will frame the law (European Commission), advisers (the ETSC itself), and those who will debate, hone, and approve the law (European Parliament and Council).
All those groups were represented there, bar the European Council.
I learned that debating time and space at the European Parliament's massive Brussels warren of committee rooms is so scarce that the ETSC can only attract informed and interested parties by using the lunchtime slot. Free finger food is the bait, but the time of day matters because scheduled business is not planned through the midday period.
The debate covered the FTL subject from as many points of view as there were people present. Maybe it was because the discussion was taking place at a political venue, but even the data supplied by scientists, which looks objective and conclusive when you read it in their reports, began to feel subjective.
Whether subjective or not, it can be - indeed will be - manipulated. It is the civil servants who will frame the new law and the parliament which will approve it. Science won't be completely ignored, but it will be put in its place. Whatever its place is deemed to be.