What did we learn at the FTL Hearing?

On 18 June about 20 pilots left the European Parliament (EP) with a strange feeling. The Flight Time Limitations Hearing, organized by the EP Transport Committee, was certainly a compelling event. It was supposed to provide answers, evidence and explanation – to allow the Members of Parliament to be fully informed when taking a decision on this important safety issue, later this year. And to a certain extent it did answer some questions.  

If you have not seen the video with extracts from the Parliamentary Hearing, now is the moment to do it. 

In duelling, but informative speeches, representatives of the EU Commission, EASA, UK CAA, scientists, airlines and aircrews presented their views on EASA’s proposed Flight Time Limitation rules. While for some it was about “safety, safety, safety”, for others – it was not only about safety. For some it was a “yes” or “no”, for others – “let’s make it better”.

Although the European Commission claimed a “tremendous” amount of science has been applied when drafting the new rules, it became clear that EASA had its own peculiar criteria of what is deemed relevant and “good” science. For example, the scientific advice on flight time limits during night, where EASA brushed-off the unanimous scientific opinion simply as non-relevant.

We also heard that EASA did not take scientific recommendations “literally”. This raises the question whether the Agency does have the required resources and in-house expertise to (re)interpret scientific studies itself. In fact, EASA had commissioned scientists to do this and to do it as independent external experts. Yet, we heard from the scientist, Dr. Gundel, that EASA did not take into account their first report, produced for EASA in 2009, and it refrained from seeking further contact and follow-up with the scientists once their subsequent reports had been submitted in 2011. 

As Jon Horne, ECA’s representative, rightly pointed out at the Hearing, it is not up to the administrative staff of the Agency to decide which scientific studies are relevant: “Fatigue experts are the people who should be interpreting whether a particular study is valid or not. That’s why you get scientific experts. They know how to weight a study and where else you can apply it”. 

One can only hope that MEPs spotted these contradictions. And that they noted what Dr. Gundel stressed when criticizing the proposed limits for night flight: “Honourable Members, if you are in favour of the proposal that has been put forward, you’d be voting against the opinion of scientific experts”.