What Are the Rules in Europe?

Despite their importance for aviation safety, European flight time rules did not exist until recently. It is only since July 2008, that EU Member States must respect the “EU-OPS” Regulation’s Subpart Q (in Annex III) that regulates Flight Time Limitations (FTL) for air crew.

With this EU-OPS Subpart Q, the EU introduced, for the first time in history, a harmonized, legally binding minimum set of FTL safety rules aimed at preventing pilot fatigue across Europe. While individual EU countries can apply stricter FTL rules at national level, they are not allowed to go below the minimum set by EU-OPS, unless they apply for a specific derogation.

In addition to the legal requirements, Collective Labour Agreements (CLAs) at company level often include FTL provisions, specifically tailored to the conditions of that company. These CLA rules cannot set lower safety levels than EU-OPS, and in most cases they actually provide for stricter FTL provisions than the national laws or EU-OPS. They therefore provide for higher safety levels than required by law.

While setting a minimum safety level, Subpart Q is by no means ideal. Its main weakness is that it has never been subject to a scientific and medical evaluation. Hence, Subpart Q’s provisions are not based on sound scientific evidence as to their ability to prevent pilot fatigue. This is a major weakness, as it means that today’s rules do not ensure passengers can enjoy highest, scientifically supported safety levels when boarding a European airplane.

Also, Subpart Q does not cover key FTL aspects that are crucial for flight safety, such as “split duty”, augmented crew on long-haul flights, some forms of standby, etc. These areas are currently left to the national legislator, leading to different national legal provisions across Europe.

For a summary of Subpart Q see: ECA "Quick Reference Guide to FTL")

Links to the legal FTL requirements in your language (search for Annex III, then for Subpart Q): bg | cs | da | de | et | el | en | es | fr | it | lv | lt | hu | mt | nl | pl | pt | ro | sk | sl | fi | sv