The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association has expressed concern that the measures being considered by the European Aviation Safety Agency are putting the commercial needs of airlines ahead of passenger safety.
Association president Evan Cullen said the EU agency had failed to explain why it had ignored the recommendations of its own scientific advisers which said night-time flying limits should be capped at 10 hours. Instead the Cologne-based EU body has proposed reducing the existing limit of 11 hours and 45 minutes to 11 hours.
Mr Cullen told the Oireachtas transport committee that research had shown pilot error was a contributory factor in almost half of all aviation accidents between 1991 and 2005 with a separate study claiming pilot fatigue was a factor in up to 25% of accidents.
He cited other research on Scandinavian pilots in which 80% admitted making fatigue-related errors, while 50% said they had fallen asleep in the cockpit without warning their colleague.
Mr Cullen said the European agency only adopted a few of 30 recommendations on changes to flying time limits by its advisers.
He criticised the Irish Aviation Authority, claiming its position on the new rules was unclear.
Mr Cullen also observed that rules regarding a pilot’s home base were being abused, particularly in Ireland, with the designated base changing regularly.
IALPA’s safety and technical director, Paul Cullen said pilots would be allowed to fly and land an aircraft after having been awake for over 22 hours under the rules.
He said pilots had major concerns about the new rules relating to night-time flying limits, standby limits and disruptive schedules.
Although pilots are limited to 100 hours flying time per month, Mr Cullen said most pilots had an average working week of between 40 and 45 hours.
Philip von Schöppenthau, general secretary of the European Cockpit Association which represents 38,000 pilots across Europe including 1,200 in Ireland, called on the Government to use its presidency of the EU to bring pressure on EASA to place the recommend caps on flying times.
The committee heard EASA has come under pressure from European airlines, many of whom are loss-making, to allow more flexibility in work rules in order to control staffing costs