Despite having had 18 months to prepare for the introduction of the new EU-OPS FTL rules (Subpart Q), many EU Member States – and a large number of their airlines – missed the deadline of 16 July 2008, and it took until mid- 2009, that all Member States were fully compliant.
While the introduction of EU-OPS Subpart Q raised the safety standards in several EU countries, some Member Statesreplaced their previously higher national safety standards by the lower EU-OPS minimum. This was against the objective of the Regulation and the “non-regression” principle, which aim at higher safety standards, not lower ones.
On the other side, the United Kingdom, which has the most advanced state-of-the-art FTL scheme in Europe ("CAP 371") chose to respect the EU-OPS "non-regression" principle and decided to maintain its CAP 371-based safety levels.
In Spain is a similar case: They upgraded their out-dated FTL legislation, by using EU-OPS as a basis, and improving it in many areas through national legislation, thereby firmly establishing the principle of non-regression. Since then, the national safety standards (Decreto Royal) override EU-OPS wherever they provide for a higher safety level.
However, since the introduction of Subpart Q, an important new trend can be observed: the gradual downgrading of safety levels within the framework of Collective Labour Agreements (CLAs) at company level. In many cases, CLAs provide for stricter FTL provisions than the national laws or EU-OPS. But the increasing competitive pressure, combined with the existence of an EU-wide FTL standard which is below most CLAs, encourages many companies to dismantle the more protective CLA provisions and to move towards the lower EU minimum.
This trend is expected to continue in future and will ultimately reduce safety levels in the airlines’ actual operations. For example, in 2011, Iberia decided to gradually shift its short-haul operations to a new low-cost subsidiary Iberia Express. This subsidiary has only a very rudimentary CLA without additional safety provisions on FTL, whereas Iberia has a significant additional safety layer in its CLA. Similarly, after Alitalia collapsed, the ‘new’ Alitalia’s CLA contains little additional safety protection against pilot fatigue. Instead, Subpart Q governs most of Alitalia’s operation. And SAS nearly-avoided bankruptcy in early 2013 resulted in many of the CLA’s FTL provisions being weakened.