A European Aviation Safety Agency-commissioned scientific report on crew fatigue has been heavily criticised as irrelevant by airline representatives at a 31 March stakeholder forum arranged by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) at the European Parliament, Brussels.

Representatives of pilot groups like the European Cockpit Association took the opposite view, saying that it is about time fatigue science and medical studies were brought to bear on the existing flight time limitations (FTL) regulations, known as EU Ops Sub-Part Q, which were devised according to operational experience alone.

The debate was intended to give ETSC officials, European parliamentarians and officials from the European Commission a flavour of the range of views among those directly affected by potential changes to existing regulations in the light of scientific and medical review.

The airline viewpoint is that the scientific study group was given the wrong terms of reference. It was managed by independent Swiss consultancy Moebus Aviation working with scientists from UK research specialist Qinetiq and several other expert agencies. The company was commissioned by EASA to answer 18 specific questions relating to Sub-Part Q FTLs. At the ETSC forum Qinetiq fatigue specialist Dr Karen Robertson admitted that the team was not given the time and resources to answer all of the questions posed by EASA, and it had reported to the safety agency that no research existed to provide scientific answers to some of them. Robertson says the answers the team could provide were based on extensive existing medical and scientific research by Qinetiq and other specialist agencies. Moebus reported to EASA that some of the longest duty periods allowed by Sub-Part Q, when combined with other fatigue-causing factors, go outside safe limits.

Dr Mark Rosekind of US-based company Alertness Solutions has cautioned EASA about what he refers to as some "risky assumptions" in the Moebus report. Rosekind has recently concluded an extensive survey of Ryanair crew performance as measured by operational flight-data monitoring, relating operational exceedence incidents - and also the lack of them - to duty periods and the likelihood of fatigue at various phases in working cyles. He concluded that Ryanair, which says it has been operating its crews to Sub-Part Q parameters since 2003, has an effective fatigue-risk monitoring system, and that the regularity and predictability of crew rostering on its exclusively short-haul network is a major part of the reason it scores well according to a fatigue-risk measurement system developed for NASA.

EasyJet's Capt Simon Stewart told the ETSC forum that airline-tailored fatigue-risk monitoring systems are the way to go, and that they benefit efficiency as well as safety.

Source: Flight International