Key industry organisations are close to a general agreement on how part of the European Union's Working Time Directive, which sets a range of binding standards on working hours, can be applied to aviation.

On 15 October, the European Commission (EC) and industry groups agreed a Draft Protocol of Understanding on how the Directive could be applied. The accord was the climax of negotiations which had been under way since late last year involving the Association of European Airlines (AEA), regional airlines, charter operators, the pilots' European Cockpit Association (ECA) and the cabin crew association ETF (formerly known as the FST). The draft agreement has subsequently been approved internally by the Commission and the AEA, ECA and ETF.

The accord provides for application to aviation only those provisions of the Working Time Directive which apply to annual leave, health assessments for workers, the annual number of worked hours and adequate rest periods or days off.

The Working Time Directive has been in effect since November 1993. It includes stipulations that employees may work no more than an average of 48 hours in a 16-week period and are entitled to at least 11 hours of rest per day. Aviation has been exempted because of the practical difficulties of applying the rules to a business with such unique work schedules.

Officials in Brussels say that there is no immediate prospect of movement on planned EC legislation limiting flight time for pilots. The EC's transport directorate - known as Directorate-General VII or DG-VII until Romano Prodi's new Commission redubbed it "DG-Trans" - had been working on finalising draft regulations for April this year. But this was put on hold as a result of the resignation of Jacques Santer's Commission at the end of March.

"It's still on the back-burner", said one official, noting that the only recent development had been approaches by DG-Trans to national Civil Aviation Authorities inviting their comments on the draft regulations. It is understood that among the member states the UK and France are pressing strongly for progress on implementation.

Source: Airline Business