‘Most Wanted’: Preventing Fatigue in the Cockpit

Air crew fatigue has been on the US National Transportation Safety Board’s ‘Most Wanted List’ of transport safety improvements for many years. Triggered by the fatigue-related Colgan Air accident which killed 50 people in the US, in Feb. 2009, the Federal Aviation Authority eventually followed the NTSB’s call, proposing a new set of fatigue-prevention rules, in Sept. 2010, based on scientific evidence and best industry practice. Here in Europe, however, scientifically derived pilot fatigue rules have not made it on the ‘Most Wanted List’ of the EU Institutions – to the detriment of European passengers’ safety.

This is the conclusion to be drawn, when analysing the EU’s equivalent to the FAA proposal: the European Aviation Safety Agency’s proposal for air crew fatigue rules, published in December 2010. In a nutshell, this proposal disregards decades of scientific and medical evidence on the safety risks related to pilot fatigue – including EASA’s own scientific report carried out by 10 renowned fatigue experts. Instead, it proposes rules that seem to be designed primarily with the objective of avoiding costs to the airlines.

This failure to integrate scientific knowledge has already claimed a first victim: The European passengers’ basic right to a safe flight. When boarding a European airplane, passengers must be able to trust in the EU legislator that they are protected by adequate safety legislation that does not ignore scientific evidence.

This trust will inevitably be deceived. At least if EASA’s proposed rules are not fundamentally changed. As they stand now, EU citizens will not only be protected by less stringent safety legislation than their US counterparts. But passengers in Europe will also see state-of-the-art safety standards currently in place in several EU countries – such as Spain, the UK and others – disappear. They will be replaced by a significantly lower EU-wide EASA standard, leading to wide-spread safety regression rather than an upward harmonisation across Europe.

EASA has a unique opportunity to develop a solid, science-based and safety-oriented FTL law. Its recent proposal, however, risks putting the EU at the bottom end of international safety regulators.

The Colgan Air accident is a sad reminder that fatigue kills. The EU Institutions should act and put safe, science-based fatigue rules on their ‘Most Wanted List’ – in the interest of Europe’s travelling public.

For more information see: http://www.eurocockpit.be/pages/flight-time-limitations