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13 November 2013
The European Commission has issued new proposals in relation to the planned harmonisation of regulations governing flight duty hours and resting times. The proposals, which have been approved by the European Parliament, will limit the number of hours which pilots spend on standby duty at the airport plus subsequent working hours at the controls of an aircraft to a total of 16, with a maximum of 14 working hours in the daytime and 11 hours at night. Airlines will also be obliged to introduce a fatigue risk management system, under which fatigue checks must be carried out for the eleventh hour in the case of night flying times in excess of 10 hours.
German pilots' union Cockpit, and the European umbrella organisation Eurocockpit, believe that the decision will jeopardise safety in favour of monetary interests. Before the ruling, the pilots' organisations had pressed for a maximum of 10 hours for night flights in order to avoid overtiredness. They further criticised the fact that standby duty and flying times could add up to as many as 22 hours. Moreover, five of the scientists assigned to investigate the matter by the commission also recommended that maximum flying time should not exceed 10 hours. Consequently, politicians from the Green Party and left of the political spectrum wanted to overturn the draft directive. German transport expert Michael Kramer (Green Party) claimed that the European Parliament is now effectively "flying blind" and has accused the commission of bowing to the interests of the airlines. The airlines were keen to prevent the 10-hour time limit from being adopted, as otherwise they would need an extra pilot to operate certain long-haul flights. According to Kramer, however, this would result in an increase in ticket prices of only €1.50.
German transport expert Dieter Lebrecht Koch (Christian Democratic Union) sees the matter in a different light. He views the new directive as a move in the right direction. Koch claims that it will allow European-wide regulations governing the working hours of pilots and cabin crew members to be introduced for the first time, and that in many respects these will improve existing practice. The longer the flight times, for example, the longer the subsequent resting times stipulated. In addition, total permissible annual flying time has been reduced from 1,300 hours to a maximum of 1,000 hours. Koch also rejects the arguments set forth in the scientific study, claiming that of the total 50 expert opinions heard, only five deemed hours in excess of 10 to be dangerous.
Following the directive's publication in the EU Official Journal, Germany, like all other member states, has a two-year period in which to implement it. In an urgent letter to the German transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, Cockpit has protested against the adjustment of flying times and indicated that it is considering taking legal action in this regard.
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