FTL in Europe: What? When? How?

After years of political and legislative debate, the new EU-OPS Regulation 1899/2006 was eventually published on 27 December 2006. But it is only on 16 July 2008, that its pan-European minimum standards for Flight Time Limitations ("Subpart Q") will become mandatory in all EU Member States. National authorities will use 2007 to prepare for changes in their legislation to ensure they can meet the deadline and to allow operators and their crew to adapt to the new rules.

But while Subpart Q is being implemented throughout Europe, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is preparing for its future mandate on Air Operations - including FTL. This mandate is currently being debated between the European Parliament (EP) and the Council of Ministers as part of the revision of EASA Regulation 1592/2002. Probably by the end of 2007, EP and Council will have agreed and EASA will become competent for OPS.

In anticipation of this new competence, the Agency has set up an "OPS Drafting Group" in summer 2006. Its aim is to develop OPS-related "Implementing Rules" (IR), which - in the case of FTL - will be based on Subpart Q. Eventually, these IR will replace EU-OPS and will become binding throughout the EU.

Crucially, as regards FTL, EASA plans to take into account the outcome of the scientific and medical evaluation of the Subpart Q rules. If this evaluation shows that the rules need to be modified - to ensure they meet highest safety standards - EASA and the European Commission want this to be reflected in the future IR.

The airline industry, however, is concerned about changing the newly adopted FTL rules, at least doing so quickly. They insist that EASA should take its time to carry out the scientific evaluation. But by doing so, the evaluation's results risk coming too late to be integrated in EASA's IR and would have to wait until a new "round" of IR is being prepared by EASA.

This would mean that IR rules would enter into force that are not based on scientific evidence as to whether they are safe or not. ECA has always stressed that FTL must be science-based, rather than being the result of political compromise. But when can pilots and operators expect to be governed by these new EASA rules? The answer is: "This depends". It depends mainly on the speed of the current revision of EASA Reg. 1592, but also on the length of transition period that the revision will have to fix.

If all goes quickly and transition periods are short, EASA's OPS Implementing Rules could enter into force as soon as in autumn 2009. If things drag on and transition periods are long, they won't before summer 2013. Most likely, it will be somewhere in between, in 2010 or 2011.

This means, Subpart Q will apply for 2-3 years before being replaced by EASA's new rules. 2-3 years where we have to live with FTL that never underwent scientific and medical safety assessment. It is crucial that EASA's new IR will take fully into account the results of the scientific evaluation that will take place this year.

Being part of EASA's FTL Advisory Group, ECA is well placed to monitor the preparation, launching and realisation of this evaluation. Our aim is to ensure a high quality, independent and authoritative study that neither the authorities nor the operators can ignore. Scientific evidence and flight safety - rather than commercial pressure and political compromise - must eventually become the basis for Europe's FTL!