Expect the Unexpected!

This could be the advice for any EU Air Transport user after 16 July. The implementation of European Flight Time Limitation (FTL) regulations by EU-OPS 1 Subpart Q in EU Member States raises many questions.

Subpart Q is included in the Regulation (EC) No 1899/2006 updated by Regulation (EC) No 8/2008, amending Council Regulation (EEC) No 3922/91 on the harmonisation of technical requirements and administrative procedures in the field of civil aviation.

The aim is to promote the harmonisation of aviation safety in EU Member States. This very honourable objective, however, is closer to a desire than a fact. Different States have reacted in a plethora of different interpretations and implementation practices, putting the aim of harmonisation at risk.

The FTL topic has always been controversial, as although ECA has always treated it as a purely safety related topic, others have either through naivety or with Machiavellian intent, mixed it up with social and industrial aspects. To solve that, we have in the EU different legal instruments, with FTL being clearly a safety issue, while social issues are dealt with in the Working Time Directive.

This FTL harmonisation process must be supported by three pillars:

  1. No Regression. All Member States have the right - and are encouraged - to keep in force safer and more restrictive FTL regulations to promote safer operations;
  2. Consistency. The implementation and development of the regulations must be coherent and supported by scientific knowledge and best safety practices;
  3. Oversight. National Authorities must ensure that regulations will be understood by all stakeholders, and they must use adequate resources to keep watch over compliance with the rules by crews and operators.

The truth after 16 July is that only a few EU "Champion" Member States have complied with these pillars. ECA especially congratulates the UK CAA. The UK CAA has complied in time without any safety regression, by maintaining CAP 371 as national regulation. They also promoted an oversight process not only linked to the fulfilment of the rule, but also with the "fatigue management of the rostering by operators".

On the other hand, many EU Member States are behind the implementation deadline, sometimes deliberately misunderstanding the meaning of the regulation, closing their eyes to rogue operators, giving exemptions to other operators without any agreed and scientifically-based mitigation measures to balance the increased "safety risk".

I believe the EU Commission and EASA share our feeling of frustration and concern with the current situation which could put at risk the safety of passengers and crew. ECA is committed to enhance our cooperation with the EU bodies to combat pilot fatigue and to promote safer air transport for our passengers.

Captain Gustavo Barba