Future of European flight safety in MEPs' hands

It is an historic moment for millions of air passengers and thousands of pilots and cabin crew, with MEPs voting on a controversial proposal for EU-wide flight duty and rest times, writes professional pilot Nico Voorbach.

By Nico Voorbach

09 Oct 2013

Many of us - Europe's pilots and cabin crew - fear that the powerful interests of the airlines could overshadow the genuine safety concerns of Europe's passengers.

If the joint lobbying of the European commission and the airlines prevail, pilots will soon be allowed to land a plane after being awake for 22 hours, or after flying through the night for up to 12hrs30, while scientists repeatedly recommend 10 hours to be the safe limit for night flights.

However, MEPs can decide on Wednesday to say 'stop' and follow the lead of the parliament's transport and tourism committee by rejecting the rules proposed by the commission.

In the weeks prior to this vote, as the commission kept promoting the merits of its proposal, reports about pilots falling asleep at the controls of aircraft made headlines across Europe, generating strong reactions from passengers and decision makers alike.

To us, pilots, this is neither sensational, nor news. We already know that fatigue is a sad (and dangerous) reality in Europe's cockpits already and we've been warning against the dangers for many years.

Surveys have shown that a large majority of European pilots (60-90 per cent) report suffering fatigue while on duty and a third of pilots have fallen asleep and/or dozed-off in the cockpit.

What is even more worrying, three out of five pilots have made mistakes due to extreme tiredness. And while the commission has rejected these numbers as meaningless, over 111,000 European citizens have signed a safety petition against the proposed new rules (see www.dead-tired.eu).

As much as I'd love to assure you that the autopilot is just fine, I cannot. Contrary to some people's belief, pilots do a lot more than sitting around in the cockpit, even when the autopilot is engaged.

Aircraft, even the most sophisticated, are incapable of selecting altitudes, working around weather problems, communicating to controllers and cabin crew, not to mention taking decisions and acting in case of emergency.

"We need flight time rules at the highest safety level, based on best practices and scientific evidence. Rules that help us to 'save the day' even when the skies are not gentle and all odds are against us"

This is why Europe needs its flight crews to be fully alert when flying. We need flight time rules at the highest safety level, based on best practices and scientific evidence. Rules that help us to 'save the day' even when the skies are not gentle and all odds are against us.

The commission has so far failed to listen to our safety concerns. We trust that parliament will act differently and put safety first - by voting for the motion to reject the proposal.

However, the commission still has the unique opportunity to commit to change in its proposal and make it a genuinely safe package. It is not too late.

We all want Europe to be 'the safest place on earth to fly'. As a European pilot, I couldn't ask for more. Let's do it.

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