A lengthy, intransparent and somewhat confusing legislative process is about to end as soon as the European Parliament (EP) rubber-stamped the Commission’s much-criticized proposal for new EU-wide Flight Time Limitations (FTL). The rulemaking will now be taking a back seat to the challenges related to the rules’ implementation. But one issue will inevitably remain on the radar screen of Europe: the need to mitigate the risks of pilot fatigue under the new rules.
Despite a firm rejection of the rules in the Parliament Transport Committee on 30 September, the EP Plenary did not follow its advice and the proposal winded its way through the full Parliament on 9 Oct in Strasbourg. ECA’s repeated calls for safer and science-based rules have not been sufficient to persuade a majority of Members of the EU Parliament (MEPs) to use their ‘veto’ right against the rules. MEPs voted by 373-228 to approve the proposal , paving its way for final publication of the text – a regrettable decision according to pilots and many cabin crew across Europe, as the text contains significant “safety loopholes” which compromise safety. Yet, the vote was seen as a ”victory for common sense” by EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas and Europe’s economically-troubled airlines.
The new FTL rules will have to be implemented across all EU Member States, including Norway, Iceland and Switzerland with a 2-year transition period starting after the publication of the regulation (expected for Dec 2013). EU Member States will be able to apply and enforce on their operators provisions of a more protective nature than those in the Regulation, as explained by Commissioner Kallas prior to the EP vote. However, it is still unclear what the binding value of this verbal declaration is and how this will work in practice. Another open issue remains the uncertainty about the so-called “Certification Specifications”, containing large amounts of substantive FTL provisions. While an informal draft version has been circulating, MEPs had no view or say on the text. Awaiting the publication of this ‘soft law’ package, it remains unclear how its final version will look.