MEPs back flying hours bill in defiance of committee

British Airways jets at Heathrow Terminal Five (file image)
Image caption British pilot representatives are disappointed by the vote

The European Parliament has backed a bill to regulate pilots' working hours despite its rejection by their own transport committee.

The European Commission's plan for standard time limits for flying will now come into force across the EU.

The transport committee rejected the plan last week, after safety concerns were raised by the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) and others.

But the changes have broad support from member governments, including the UK.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also backed the plans.

The transport committee's recommendation to dismiss the new rules was rejected by 387 MEPs, with 218 voting in favour and 66 abstaining.

Balpa argues the proposals could mean some aircrews fly for longer, with more risk of pilots falling asleep at the controls.

However, EU officials insist the new rules will boost safety standards and ensure that all European airlines have the same maximum time limits for flying.

Under the new act

  • Flight duty time at night is cut by 45 minutes to a maximum of 11 hours
  • The maximum number of flying hours in 12 consecutive months is reduced from 1,300 to 1,000
  • Weekly rest is increased to two days instead of a day and a half, twice a month
  • After a significant time zone crossing, five days' rest are granted at home base, in contrast to the two days or less allowed by some member states
  • Maximum duty time during airport standby (ie standby plus flight time) is fixed at 16 hours instead of the 26 or 28 allowed by some member states

'Lives at risk'

There has been a huge row over whether the proposals really will make flying safer, the BBC's Duncan Crawford reports from Strasbourg.

Balpa argues that loopholes in the proposals could result in British aircrews being on shift for longer, with pilots potentially being awake for 22 hours before needing to land an aircraft.

The group is concerned that the new limits lower existing UK standards - saying that, for instance, crews might have to do up to seven 05:00 starts in a row, up from three.

The maximum of 1,000 flying hours is an increase on the current 900 that applies in Britain - though airlines will be free to stick to the 900 if they wish.

Jim McAuslan, Balpa's secretary general, said after the vote: "British pilots want to make every flight a safe flight and are deeply concerned that these unsafe new EU rules will put the lives of passengers at risk."

He accused the British government and CAA of forcing through the new regulations.

"Passengers and pilots deserve flight safety rules based on rigorous science and evidence, not secret dodgy deal-making in Strasbourg, which will mean that Britain no longer has the safest skies in Europe," he said.

That claim has been dismissed as a distortion, our correspondent says. An EU official said suggestions the new rules would weaken safety were "false and irresponsible".

The European Parliament's Transport and Tourism Committee chairman, Brian Simpson, noted that every national safety regulator had supported the new measures.

In a statement, the CAA said the new act would give regulators "far greater oversight of fatigue".

"The CAA is calling on the aviation industry to work together to ensure that reporting is improved, fatigue management is strengthened and the new European rules, when implemented, are utilised to their full to enhance aviation safety," the UK body said.