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AIR TRANSPORT : FLIGHT TIME: MEPS NOT FULLY REASSURED.

Members of the European Parliament seem concerned about certain changes to rules on flight and rest time for airline pilots proposed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The rules set out in Regulation 1899/2006 will be changed under the comitology procedure and the European Parliament will have a right of veto. The Committee on Transport (TRAN) will have competence on the matter. At a TRAN meeting, on 19 March, its members pointed out that they have no intention of equivocating over safety. Night flights are a particular concern.

This is one of the issues that has been poisoning relations between airlines and pilots' unions for years. The EASA went to work on these new rules three years ago and the process is nearing its end. The agency turned in its proposals to the Commission in October 2012 and the executive now has to present a formal proposal. According to Matthew Baldwin, aviation director at DG MOVE, no decision has been taken yet. But the Commission seems to be in step with the EASA.

The unions think that the agency's proposals are dangerous and have made this clear with several demonstrations in recent months. MEPs have received their message. Most TRAN members expressed concern about the EASA's suggestion to set a maximum flight time of 11 hours for flights that include a night period (the maximum is currently 11 hours 45 minutes). The bar is still too high, they said, referring to scientific studies that recommend ten hours at most.

What worries MEPs is the comparison with the United States. This is one of the unions' key arguments: night flights there are limited to nine hours. So are European pilots more fatigue resistant? Baldwin said the comparison was not that simple because everything related to night flights is different in Europe and the United States. Rules on rest before a flight, for example, are much less stringent in the United States than in Europe, which has to be taken into account to assess a pilot's state of fatigue at the start of a flight.

TRAN Chair Brian Simpson (S&D, UK) likewise cautioned committee members against comparisons with the United States. He spelled out MEPs' room for manoeuvre on this issue: "Your vote will come down to a yes' or no'". In the event of rejection, the current rules allowing night flights of 11 hours 45 minutes will be maintained.

The TRAN committee will hold a public hearing once the Commission has presented its formal proposal.

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Publication:European Report
Date:Mar 22, 2013
Words:417
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