Under the EASA Flight Time Limitations, the maximum flight duty period (FDP) may be extended by up to 2 hours at the Commander’s Discretion ('CD') or even 3 hours if in-flight rest facilities are provided. As explained in a recent ECA “SpotOn” guidance paper, this extension of a regular flight duty must be understood as a very exceptional ‘fix’ for some of the uncertainties in commercial aviation. Because even an operator’s most cautious planning of flight pattern cannot cover all circumstances causing delay or excessive fatigue – although good planning can greatly help to reduce such situations.
However, ‘cautious planning’ is understood in different ways by different people. A most notable and deplorable example hit the headlines in the past summer, resulting in the dismissal of several crew members who rightly refused to operate under discretion. On top of that, pilots are reporting increased pressure from their airlines to use commander’s discretion.
To prevent misuse, EASA requires the operator to provide their crews with ‘robust’ rosters, i.e. rosters that under normal circumstances are realistically achievable in real operations, and to improve the planning when missing this target.
At this point, the commander – as being the airline’s representative on scene – is entitled to evaluate the situation and decide on best judgement as regards flight safety, the customers’ need for transport and the crew’s health. The regulator’s original idea was to entitle the commander to extend – but also to reduce – any FDP under the aspect of suitability, necessity and proportionality.
Commander’s discretion is frequently seen as a welcome extension of the limits to make up for the unrealistic planning
In addition, EASA most recently (July 2018) stated that “Operators should ensure that sufficient margins are included in schedule design so that commanders are not expected to exercise discretion as a matter of routine.” EASA FTL FAQ, 12 JUL 2018
This is, where potential misuse creeps in. Because Commander’s discretion is frequently seen as a welcome extension of the limits to make up for the unrealistic planning. Reasonable buffers to cover uncertainties cost money. This is why our FTL experts put together much-needed guidance on this matter. While CD seems quite simple, there are many aspects that every pilot & cabin crew must be aware of to ensure safe operations.
➢ CD may only be used in case of unforeseen circumstances which occur after reporting time.
➢ Premise is a safe operation through avoiding fatigue as much as possible.
➢ The CMD may decide to either go above or even stay below the limits for the FDP or rest period, (i.e. extend or reduce) as necessary to battle severe fatigue.
➢ The use of CD shall stay exceptional & should be avoided at home base and company hubs.
➢ All crew members involved have to be actively consulted about their fitness for duty by the commander for the very purpose to base the decision on hands on information and all other relevant fatigue-related circumstances.
➢ The responsibility and decision lies exclusively with the commander alone. An established 'non-punitive' company environment shall guarantee that the management will refrain from any negative response related to the outcome of the CD to the crew or its individual crew members.
➢ The responsibility to avoid situations, where the use of CD is the last way to avoid flight cancellation, is a shared responsibility, including all levels within an operator's organization.
➢ The use of CD is to be formally reported by the commander to the operator.
➢ The actual number of sectors and the crew configuration have to be used for calculations.
➢ The extension of maximum FDP is limited by 2h. This may be increased to 3h if in-flight rest facilities are used.
➢ The minimum rest period must not be reduced below 10h (8h sleep opportunity!), but all fatigue-relevant circumstances must be considered.