The collapse of the European Aviation Safety Agency's attempt to launch a scientific and medical study into preventing pilot fatigue could mean new flight-duty rules are introduced without a proper scientific basis, which is not what the safety agency had intended.
News that EASA has failed to award the £150,000 ($205,000) contract comes after the UK's Qinetiq, a research authority on pilot fatigue and flight safety, disclosed it had opted not to advise the agency on the basis of its previous high-level work on sleep, circadian rhythms and levels of alertness of long-haul aircrew (Flight International, 24-30 July).
EASA confirms: "There was no successful bidder. The agency is considering how to proceed and whether or not to relaunch the exercise. This is a legal matter and we don't generally disclose information on an ongoing tendering procedure...to protect bidding companies' interests."
The imminent flight time limitations (FTL) will be enforced by EASA throughout European Union member states when they become an EU Ops regulation next July and essentially represent an amalgamation of existing duty operating regimes throughout EU member states.
The maximum flight-duty period in the draft legislation is 13h for a one- or two-sector day, with a potential extension of 1h that operators may use no more than twice a week.
The maximum flying hours within any consecutive 28-day period will be 100, with 900h the annual limit. The regime has, however, never been the subject of a scientific or medical impact assessment.
EASA therefore commissioned an ambitious review by the "best available experts" after extensive industry consultation to test the new rules in real airline operations, acknowledging that although widely accepted, "some elements need more attention than others".
A source close to the dossier told Flight International, flightglobal.com's sister publication: "Scientists and consultants had about one month to prepare their proposal. However, it seems that not a single bid has been received by EASA. Without a proposal by scientists, EASA cannot carry out the study, at least not at this stage."
According to this source the options are two-fold: either EASA extends the deadline for a new tender or launches a modified tender focusing on key areas to help EASA prepare the first raft of flight-duty rules.
While much depends on how quickly new legislation allowing it to acquire new operational powers is introduced, both scenarios risk new rules needing to be added or to amend initial implementing rules. "This will not guarantee the most consistent approach," the source says.
"If the tender is relaunched, EASA should first be certain that its tender specifications are likely to attract qualified scientists," the source adds.
Qinetiq has said it may reconsider its involvement, but that together with its consortium partners had judged the assignment far too complex to be completed within budget and the six-month timeframe.
Source: Flight International