European flight time limitations: pilots cheer, airlines howl

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There have been simultaneous expressions of jubilation from pilot associations and of horror from airline management on the publication of new recommendations to the European Aviation Safety Agency on modifying its existing flight time limitation (FTL) regulations.

The Association of European Airlines says that, if implemented fully, the recommended changes would require the airlines to employ 15-20% more pilots.

The AEA says the science behind the EASA-commissioned independent scientific study is "flawed" and is not supported by the delivery of "safe operation over many years and millions of flights". Carried out by Switzerland-based aviation consultancy Moebus according to a requirement that EASA should undertake a "scientific and medical" review of the existing FTLs, the report recommends considerable modification to the existing European Joint Aviation Requirements on FTL (JAR FTL).

The recommendations mostly affect the extremes of the rules: those affecting the longest duties - currently allowed to be up to 13-14h, the more arduous multi-sector duty periods, night flights or those that start or end at night, and those that cross multiple time zones. Under these circumstances, the recommendations would - if adopted - reduce duty hours and/or increase rest time.

On very long-haul flights, the requirement for an augmented crew would kick in at lower hours. Another factor is the recommendation to tighten the restrictions on maximum duty totals over consecutive weeks or months, preventing employers from exceeding a safe rate of working by using up a pilot's whole allowance for a month or a year in a far shorter period.

The International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations praises the report as recognising that fatigue is dangerous. The next step is for the European Commission and EASA to frame the new FTLs for consultation.