365 Days Lost for Safety – and More to Come

Later this month, we will mark the 1st anniversary of the "Moebus Report" – a scientific evaluation of the EU's current pilot fatigue rules. Mandated by EU law and commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), this report concludes that current EU fatigue rules are not fit for purpose and need to be amended to ensure passengers and crews are sufficiently protected against fatigue-related safety risks. – Sadly enough, this anniversary offers little reason to celebrate, as both the airlines and the EU Institutions seem to be living in a state of collective denial.

The issue at stake is simple: The EU has scientific evidence at hand showing that its current pilot fatigue law is potentially unsafe. Yet, it has been sitting on this evidence for almost one year without concrete action. Rather than starting immediately to review and change the current law, airline lobbying has paralysed the EU into inaction. Political will at top EU-levels is absent. European airlines stick to their 'Don't touch EU law' mantra. And in the meantime, the EU remains stuck in preliminary considerations on how to move forward.

The airlines state that 'EU-OPS Subpart Q' – the current EU law on crew fatigue – is "state-of-the-art" and "demonstrably safe". This claim is more than surprising. The only fatigue regulation in Europe that can claim the label 'state-of-the-art' is the British 'CAP 371'. Built on scientific knowledge and continuous stakeholder involvement, CAP 371 displays 19 years of successful 'operational experience', and is undisputedly THE standard for Europe to aim at. Interestingly, if the recommendations of the Moebus Report were followed, the result would look amazingly similar to CAP 371!

"Demonstrably safe"? So far, Subpart Q has been applied for only 14 months – a period far too short to demonstrate that operations – flown strictly under Subpart Q – are safe. Moreover, not only do many EU states impose national safety standards beyond those of Subpart Q, but in many airlines pilots and management negotiated agreements that provide for an additional safety layer. So if anything could be demonstrated to be safe, it is those national provisions combined with the company-specific agreements – but not Subpart Q.

Against such airline statements stands the unanimous opinion of 10 renowned scientists from some of the most respected fatigue research institutes in Europe. Their findings and recommendations, based on decades of scientific research, leave no doubt: EU pilot fatigue law must urgently be changed. Wanting to deny this is naive at best and irresponsible at worst.