Best and Worst Practices: New National Flight Time Schemes

Only seven months are left for national authorities to transpose and implement the European Flight Time Limitations (FTL) for pilots, as regulated by Annex III "Subpart Q" of the "EU-OPS Regulation" 1899/2006. While this will introduce a harmonised minimum set of FTL rules across Europe, some EU Member States are taking the risk of reducing safety standards rather than increasing them.

ECA has been worried for quite some time that EU Member States with high FTL safety standards, might be using the transposition of Subpart Q as a pretext for downgrading their high standards to the lowest legally possible minimum, i.e. the EU-OPS Subpart Q level.

A recent poll among ECA Member Associations shows that this risk is particularly acute in the Scandinavian countries Sweden, Norway and Denmark. For a long time, the Scandinavian "FTL Points System" has served very well to keep safety levels at a high level - in many areas well above the EU-OPS level. However, this well-performing system is to be replaced by the EU-OPS minimum. Pilot safety experts from the region expect that on several accounts, the future FTL rules will provide for less safety protection than their current system.

The same Scandinavian authorities adopted a secretive process when preparing their new national FTL legislation, repeatedly rejecting input from their national pilot associations. Obviously, there is little interest in listening to the "front-end users" of the new FTL rules and no openness to their arguments. ECA label: Least concern for aviation safety!

However, there are also best practices. In Spain, for example, the authorities actively engaged aviation stakeholders in their legislative drafting. A formal working group had been tasked to work through and upgrade their FTL legislation, taking EU-OPS as a basis but improving on that in many areas.

Another best practice is the United Kingdom. Undisputedly, the British FTL rules - the so-called "CAP 371?" are Europe's most advanced state-of-the-art FTL scheme. The temptation to downgrade this scheme to gain competitive edge could have been substantial. Despite this, the UK authorities publicly committed to maintaining CAP 371 wherever it provides for a higher safety standard than EU-OPS. ECA label: Most concern for aviation safety!

However, there is some other good news coming from the ECA poll: In most EU countries, safety levels are expected to remain more or less the same or even to increase with the transposition of EU-OPS into national law.

On the other side, ECA Members report an increasing downward trend in the framework of Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) negotiations at company level. Often, CLAs provide for more advanced FTL provisions than the national laws. Competitive pressures and the existence of a new EU-wide FTL standard which is below most CLAs, leads many companies to gradually dismantle the more safety conscious CLA provisions. Existing high safety standards are at risk!

In summary, while there are good examples of best practice and an expectation that legal safety levels will remain the same or increase with EU-OPS kicking in, some Member States risk downgrading their safety standards, and companies put pressure on high-standard CLAs with potentially negative repercussions on pilot fatigue and flight safety. Many reasons to remain vigilant and for ECA to continue monitoring FTL trends and pointing the finger at the worst practices and black sheep!