EASA outlines proposed flight time limitation rules

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The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has made concessions to airlines and pilots in publishing its much-anticipated proposed flight time limitation (FTL) rules.

Under the proposed rules, which will be open for comment before becoming law, the maximum duty period for an unaugmented crew flying one or two sectors in their "acclimatised" time zones will remain 13h, which is more than the pilots wanted. However, the circumstances under which this will be permitted have been tightened.

The main complaint from pilots is that EASA has been selective about what it takes from fatigue science studies, insisting that the agency's mandate was to base the rules strictly on science.

The Association of European Airlines said of the proposed rules: "The EASA proposal is extremely strict and will maintain Europe's position as a world leader in aviation safety. [The] new European FTL rules will be among the most stringent in the world. Some European airlines may face increased costs as a consequence, but there must never be any compromise on safety, even in difficult times."

Individual airlines still have the option of applying to operate crew duty times tailored to their specific operations if they run an approved fatigue risk management system.

Both EASA and the International Civil Aviation Organisation have made it clear they believe that having an FTL regulation is essential for carriers that want to use it, but as a one-size-fits-all system it has its limitations. EASA and ICAO want to promote wider use of fatigue risk management.

The European Cockpit Association's most strident complaint about the proposed FTLs is that pilots flying freight flights at night are not given adequate protection against the effects of flying in the hours of their "circadian low" performance period.

Meanwhile, the proposed new rules are, like many new regulations, consciously transferring to the airlines the responsibility for ensuring that pilots are not too fatigued to fly.

Compliance with the FTLs will not, alone, be protection in law in the event of a fatigue-related mishap, the EASA proposed rule makes clear.