Right after Easter, the Members of the European Parliament will debate the new "EU-OPS" Regulation and its Subpart Q on Flight Time Limitations (FTL). Or will they? Early indications show that the EP may try to avoid discussing the real questions: are the proposed FTL rules sufficient to guarantee safe flying in Europe? Can the travelling public trust in the EU to uphold highest safety standards in the European skies? Can a passenger be sure that pilot fatigue does not endanger his or her safety?
There is a risk that the European Parliament will choose to ignore these questions. In the end, flight safety may NOT be the guiding principle for the elected representatives of European citizens. Is it wrong to assume that the same citizens want their representatives to take flight safety seriously?
The draft report by the Rapporteur on EU-OPS will be presented and debated in the EP's Transport Committee, on 19 April. This Committee had made flight safety its prime goal when approving legislation that brought about the so-called "Black Lists" for unsafe carriers from foreign countries. Now - on a real safety issue - the report will propose only three very limited amendments to the EU-OPS text.
ECA's key demand will not figure among those amendments: to carry out a scientific and medical evaluation of the FTL rules within two years. While the draft report will call upon EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) and the EU Commission to swiftly revise the FTL rules once the evaluation has been concluded, it will insist that this evaluation should not be done in two years, but within three years. Why? Because otherwise Member States would have to change their FTL rules shortly after they entered into force, entailing "administrative problems" and "unjustifiable costs".
So, it is financial costs and administrative considerations that will guide the EP - rather than flight safety? Is it the desire not to upset the Council of Ministers?
ECA, representing over 34.800 European pilots, can not accept this. We know we can count on each of our Member Associations to strongly convey this message to the European Parliament. Yes, we need a deadline for EASA and the Commission to revise the FTL rules as soon as possible. Yes, we need to shorten the time during which FTL apply that are clearly insufficient as regards safety. And for this, yes, we must have a scientific / medical evaluation carried out without undue delay.
Deliberately choosing to lose time is the wrong answer. EASA is able to carry out the evaluation within 2 years. National Authorities have the duty to overcome administrative and financial hurdles to introduce safe standards - this is their task and this is in the interest of the European travelling public. And the European Parliament must take this opportunity to enhance safety in the European skies.