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British pilots fear that the European Commission will this week attempt to force through new regulations on working hours, despite concerns that the changes will put passengers at risk.
Last week, the EU transport committee voted against the proposals in a move welcomed by the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa).
But the association is now worried that the proposals – which it claims will mean pilots could be forced to land a plane having been awake for 22 hours – will still be adopted in a vote by the European Parliament on Wednesday.
In a recent poll, 56 per cent of pilots questioned by Balpa said they had fallen asleep as the cockpit under existing regulations, with a third saying they had woken to find their co-pilot asleep too. A report to the CAA last week highlighted a case of fatigue involving pilots aboard a UK-operated passenger Airbus, and today Balpa released several other case studies to the Government and the CAA.
In one incident, a pilot said he woke up alone in the cockpit of a night flight after his colleague fell asleep in the toilet. In another, a pilot said he and a colleague nearly botched a landing at Heathrow “with possible fatal consequences” as they were “punch-drunk with tiredness”. One pilot added that he had the “feeling of being unable to keep my eyes open on at least five occasions” at the controls of an aircraft. The dossier adds that pilots often do not report such cases due to fear of reprisal.
The EU had said the changes were essential to ensure airlines in all 27 member states operated on a level playing field.
Under the changes restrictions would have been tightened in some parts of the EU, but in Britain it would have led to pilots working longer hours.
Balpa’s concerns had been shared by the all-party Transport Select Committee at Westminster.
Jim McAuslan, Balpa general secretary, said: “It is a scandal that the unelected and unaccountable EC can force through cuts to UK flight safety that have been rejected by MEPs on their own transport committee, UK MPs, pilots across Britain and Europe, scientists and the British flying public.
“British pilots are urging UK MEPs, the Government and Secretary of State for Transport to keep British skies safe for passengers and urge the commission to go back to the drawing board.”
However, the CAA, and the Government, insist that the new rules will not adversely affect flight safety.
A CAA spokesman said: “Aviation safety is our number one priority. We think the proposed European flight-time limitation regulations would maintain the UK’s current high safety levels, and will increase safety for UK passengers travelling on some other European airlines.
“The European rule-making process is ongoing, with the proposals now due to be considered by a plenary session of the European Parliament. In the meantime the UK’s existing rules remain in place.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We will continue to support the adoption of the proposed regulation as it will improve safety across the EU.
“The CAA – the UK’s specialist aviation safety regulator – is satisfied that the proposed requirements will improve safety across the EU as a whole. Flight-time limitation requirements are there to ensure that pilot and other crew members do not operate aircraft with unsafe levels of fatigue.
“The proposed requirements go further than current requirements by obliging airlines to plan rotas and manage crew duties to actively address the risk of fatigue occurring in the first place.”