After 13 long years of wrangling, European Union states are about to get their first pan-European flight time limitations (FTL) for pilots. Most member states did not have any FTL rules – the system has relied on a combination of common sense and agreements between airlines and pilot unions.

But in some countries the freedom to work pilots as long as it takes has been exploited, particularly in the air freight sector. Now countries can still set their own rules (or can keep those they have) providing they meet the minimum standards set by the new EU-OPS FTL when it is ratified – probably by about July.

FTLs are extraordinarily difficult rules to write. If the regulator uses legal language that takes account of every possible combination of the factors that have to be considered, airlines end up with a system from which workable rosters cannot be created. So workable rules are also exploitable by those who would do so. The European Cockpit Association (ECA) is justifiably concerned that provision for derogation, intended to enable some flexibility in the rules for specific operations, over time – given the increasing commercial pressures on airlines – may erode the effectiveness of the FTL.

It will be the task of the European Aviation Safety Agency to conduct the necessary oversight to see that this does not happen at national level.

Source: Flight International