The European Cockpit Association says the report, commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency, proves that existing regulations, at their extremes, are actually dangerous because of the length of duty periods that they allow.
It is a fact that fatigue in humans has the same effects on mental reasoning and physical coordination as alcohol does.
A pilot may not be able to get away with flying when drunk, but he/she can legally get away with flying when fatigued because it cannot be proven by blood testing. For the same reason, an airline cannot be legally challenged for rostering a pilot to fly when he/she is actually fatigued, as long as the airline abides by the flight time limitations (FTL) regulations. So FTL limits do matter, because they are the only defence against an airline that wishes to push its luck. Most don’t, but many do.
This is not, however, a matter to be argued in law courts, it’s a matter of common sense. But in this case it’s also a matter of science. The European Commission required EASA to submit the existing FTL rules to independent scientific analysis.
Obediently, EASA did just what it was told, and the scientists duly reported to the Agency.
Meanwhile the airlines have been frantically lobbying against any amendments to the FTLs that might take into account the scientific report’s findings. The Association of European Airlines (AEA) claims the report is flawed. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? Airlines have never liked FTLs of any kind.
EASA says the pilots are being premature, and that it has no intention of dropping its review of the FTLs, but that consultation with all parties followed by framing the final law will take until 2011.
The pilots are right to keep this process highly visible, however. They know that any proposed legislation against which there is a powerful lobby - like that of the AEA - has a habit of sinking without trace, especially when the issue is a human condition that cannot be measured after the event.