Flight time limitation is definitely the most contentious piece of aviation regulation on the planet. That's why many nations have never even tried to frame FTL, relying instead on agreements between pilot or cabin crew unions and the operators - or on luck in the absence of any FTLs.

Now the European Aviation Safety Agency has taken delivery of an independent scientific analysis of the FTLs originally drawn up by the Joint Aviation Authorities in association with the European Commission and Parliament. These FTLs are now designated EU Ops Subpart Q, and the new 47-page study is critical of the document as it stands, saying the highest duty time limits are "unacceptable". That is not a social or industrial judgement, it is a scientifically backed view that Subpart Q exposes airline users to unacceptable levels of risk from pilot and cabin crew fatigue. The European Commission, advised by EASA, is now obliged to draw up modified European FTLs for approval by the Parliament, or to justify reasons for rejecting change.

As the notes associated with the "Scientific and medical review of flight time limitations" explain, the existing FTLs "are the result of long-lasting negotiations and were not defined on a purely scientific basis". For that reason, when Subpart Q was approved it was laid down that, by 16 January 2009, EASA had to carry out a scientific review of the regulations. It has done just that, and the result has caused delight in pilot circles and horror among the airlines. The carriers say they would need to hire 15-20% more pilots if the recommendations were adopted in full.

Actually the result of these new regulations does not need to be disastrous for the airlines, because there is a better way of controlling crew fatigue than imposing simple duty time limits, and EASA has made it clear that this is the way it wants to go. Under the adopted philosophy whereby most regulations can be met by "acceptable means of compliance" as an alternative to observing the letter of the law, the agency will encourage airlines to set up individual fatigue risk management programmes. The theory is that time on duty is not the only, or even the main, producer of dangerous fatigue, so if an airline intelligently reviews the way its crews live and work, extensions to the basic legislation would be permitted. EasyJet has pioneered a fatigue risk management system with the UK Civil Aviation Authority that enabled it to get more duty hours a year out of its pilots with less fatigue. It can be done.

Source: Flight International