Crews demonstrate over move to cut rest time as report blames accident on tiredness

European pilots demonstrated outside a European Union transport ministers' meeting to approve controversial new flightcrew duty time (FCDT) limitations last week, as on the other side of the Atlantic a report blamed a freighter crash on fatigue-related pilot misjudgement.

The EU meeting, held in Luxembourg on 10-11 June, was expected to approve a new pan-EU FCDT limitation law that, according to the demonstrating pilots - led by the European Cockpit Association (ECA) - will have the overall effect of increasing maximum allowable duty hours, reducing rest time between sectors, and removing limits on consecutive night duties.

The British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) says the UK is one of a small number of few European countries to have comprehensive FCDT regulations, and the ECA wanted the new rules to be based on them. However, the EU law will extend the maximum permissible long-haul crew duty from 12h to 14h without the need to augment the crew, says BALPA. It will also reduce the breaktime between sectors from 45min to one period of 45min between every three sectors, and remove the limits on the number of consecutive night duties, says the pilot union.

The UK's two main long-haul airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, both say the new rules will make no difference to their practices because they are bound by industrial agreements as well as safety considerations. Both say they will continue to augment crews on long-haul flights to enable the crew to take in-flight rest. Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, says if the new rules affect pilot rostering at all it will be to limit flexibility further "for the most cossetted group of employees in the world".

BALPA says a study of more than 50 serious crew-error related accidents shows that the risk of pilot- misjudgement crashes increases sixfold when crew duty time is more than 13h, compared with 10h or less on duty.

In its report on the July 2002 FedEx Express Boeing 727-200 crash, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says the captain had insufficient sleep before duty, the co-pilot had suffered frequently changing sleep cycles due to his roster, and "it is possible" that the flight engineer was also fatigued.

The misjudgements that led the aircraft to crash on a night approach by flying too low were probably fatigue-related, says NTSB member Carol Carmody who says: "The cockpit was inattentive, sloppy, no-one noticed the red [precision approach path indicator] is not a good thing when accidents involve inattention to duty."



Source: Flight International