Flight time limitations

Written evidence from the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) FTL 12)

1.0 Executive summary

1.1 Industries with significant potential to harm the public are regulated. Pilot fatigue is a considerable factor in aviation safety and is regulated. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was tasked with producing a Flight Time Limitation (FTL) proposal "taking into account recent scientific and technical evidence" [1] . EASA’s overarching objective is to promote the highest common standard of safety in Europe. There are stark differences between the EU proposals and the UK’s current FTL scheme which we believe will result in a diminution of flight safety.

1.2 Fatigue has many effects on mental and physical performance that would be exacerbated under the EU proposals. The potential effects of these proposals on aviation safety can be proven and indeed can be evidenced from recent fatal air incidents. The EASA proposal creates the possibility of pilots landing aircraft having been awake for some 22 hours.

1.3 Scientific evidence was not used from the outset and this is contrary to the terms of reference for the rule-making group.

1.4 The CAA has submitted 3 areas of concern to EASA which have not been fully addressed, yet we understand they are intending to support the proposals. We have concerns that the CAA is struggling to reconcile their dual function as safety and economic regulator and are relying on airlines to construct non-fatiguing rosters.

1.5 The central issue is an ethical one around the value of life and our duty of care. This is best considered in the context of a fatal public transport accident having occurred where pilot error due to fatigue is proven to be a causal factor and where, for example, the crew have been awake for more than 16 hours. The following question would arise - "Given the available scientific evidence has sufficient care been taken in production of the regulation that allows this?" We consider that the answer is "No."

2.0 EASA’s proposals and how these compare to the UK current regulations

2.1 The differences between CAP 371, the domestic UK pilot fatigue rule, and EASA’s proposals are stark. We have chosen four examples of where the proposals offer less protection than CAP 371 but this is not an exhaustive list.

2.2 It is important to bear in mind that "maximum" in FTL schemes does not have the plain English (pE) definition due to allowable additions – ‘extensions’, ‘discretion’ and ‘standby’ – which can add many hours to an FTL ‘maximum’. In this document we will use maximum (pE) to describe a limit which can never be exceeded. Notwithstanding this much of the text of the proposal is open to interpretation and lacks legal certainty.

2.3 Landing an aircraft after 22 hours awake
For a two pilot, two sector (flight) day the maximum (pE) FDP is 20 hours under the EASA proposals and 16.25 hours under CAP371. The reality of the EASA proposals is that a pilot could wake at 5.00 am, report for ‘airport standby’ at 7.00 am, fly at 11.00 am and land and park the aircraft at the end of the FDP at 3.00 am the following day. He or she would then go to the crew room to complete their duty period by 3.30 am and either go to a hotel or find their way home. This means that pilots could be landing their aircraft after having been awake for 22 hours. While this should not be a regular occurrence, operational issues such as snow at a congested airport like Heathrow, could see many crews experiencing this maximum (pE) FDP.

2.4 Lack of restrictions on two flight, crew long range operations
The EASA rules will allow a two pilot crew to fly very long-haul single sector flights that would currently, under CAP371, require 3 crew-members. Put this together with a locked flight deck door and an FDP of up to 14 hours (16 with discretion) and you can see the potential for extremely fatigued pilots. Would you want to be a passenger on an aeroplane where a two pilot crew had been on continuous duty for up to 16 hours?

2.5 Maximum duty periods
Whilst EASA have proposed the introduction of a 14 day maximum duty limit which we support, their proposed limit of 110 hours is far too high. The UK CAP 371 has a 14 day limit of 95 hours which works well in ensuring that work blocks are not ‘bunched’ together and allows sufficient time for rest and recuperation.

2.6 Consecutive Early Starts
Consecutive early starts have been researched by the UK CAA and this research has shown that sleep deprivation, leading to the onset of fatigue, can arise if crew members are required to report for an early start duty on a number of consecutive days.

2.7 The restrictions on the number of early starts permissible under CAP 371 are wholly sensible and backed by existing science. The science has included the need for a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) to be researched and implemented should an operator wish to roster more than 3 consecutive early starts.

2.8 Under the EASA proposals control on the number of early starts is far too lax. The EASA CRD only states that, "For a crew member performing 4 or more night duties, early starts or late finishes between 2 recovery rest periods the second extended recovery rest period is extended to 60 hours." This effectively means that a crew member could work up to 7 early starts and only be protected by 60 hours free from duty after the block of work. There is no rule protecting an individual from cumulative fatigue within the allowable 168 hour working block. This flies in the face of the established scientific research carried out by the UK CAA into the effects of continuous early starts.

3.0 The potential effects of the proposals on pilot fatigue and aviation safety

3.1 Fatigue has many effects on mental and physical performance including reaction time, co-ordination, decision-making, memory, speed and other important aspects of the flying task. Of particular importance, however, is that fatigue increases the risk of involuntary sleep which comes with little warning. Dr Cabon and his colleagues conducted a study to investigate ‘pre-planned rest’ on the flight deck. For this study [2] both pilots had the electrical activity of their brain monitored throughout the flight. The study revealed that whilst the pilot that was assigned to sleep was doing so, for about half of this time the other pilot was also involuntarily sleeping.

3.2 Fatigue and depressurisation
In the event of a sudden cabin depressurisation, alert pilots have in the region of 15 seconds to don their oxygen masks before they lose consciousness. At the best of times at cruising altitudes a pilot’s ability to perform this task within the 15 seconds or so is distinctly marginal. However, if both pilots are asleep then their blood oxygen is likely to be reduced so that 15 seconds is likely to be an over estimate of the time that they have, hence, in the event of a sudden depressurisation, it is quite possible that neither of them would ever regain consciousness.

3.3 A real risk of dual incapacitation
A recent poll [3] of 500 airline pilots found that in flights where there are two pilots on the flight deck 43% of pilots reported involuntarily falling asleep. Of these, 31% had woken to find the other pilot also asleep. Due to lack of awareness of one’s own micro sleeps these figures are likely to represent a substantial under estimate of the problem. Under CAP 371, where Flight Duty Periods of up to 16.25 hours are possible, pilots could be landing their aircraft at a time when their individual probability of ‘being likely to fall asleep. is around 21% [4] . Also at this time the pilots may have a hand-eye performance loss that would be similar to having a blood alcohol level of 4 times the legal limit for flying [5] . Under the EASA CRD, where FDP of up to 20 hours is possible, these figures are likely to be very much worse.

3.4 Other physical performance decrements
It is important that pilots have fast reaction times. In the cockpit safety critical information is widely spread across instrument panels in front, on either side and above the pilot. This information includes aircraft orientation (wings level or banked, climbing, descending, inverted etc.), fuel levels, ground terrain and what autopilot mode the aircraft is in. Pilots are trained to assimilate this information by scanning their instruments; this is a very mentally demanding task that is particularly likely to ‘break down’ when pilots are tired.

3.5 Fatigue a cause of human error
Whilst involuntary sleep is an obvious manifestation of fatigue, more commonly fatigue acts to increase the risk of most forms of human error. Human error is a cause or associated with some 70-80% of aviation accidents [6] . The list of recent fatal accidents where fatigue has been a contributory factor is well known: latterly it includes the Comair Flight 191 at Lexington (KY) in August 2006; Colgan Air Flight 3407 at Buffalo (NY) in February 2009; and Air India Express Flight 812 at Mangalore, India, in May 2010. The 2009 Colgan accident has particularly influenced sentiment in the United States where revised FTL rules announced in December 2011 go much further to protect against fatigue risks than the current EASA proposals. (See 5.1 below)

While the risk of fatigue is universally present in aviation, the effect of the EASA proposals is that pilots will be more tired more often and therefore at increased risk of pilot-error.

4.0 The use of scientific and medical evidence in developing the regulations
4.1 In this area the central issue is one of proper process. Contrary to the EU law setting up EASA and Terms of Reference of the OPS 0.55 rulemaking group [7] we believe EASA took inadequate account of scientific evidence in the formulation of its FTL rules, both in respect of the annual flight hour limits it set and also the daily FDP Limits. Failure to have adequate regard to scientific evidence is a breach of Article 8 of the EASA Basic Regulation and a breach of the general requirements of proportionality (insofar as it is unsuitable to achieve the ends of high, uniform safety and does not go far enough to achieve its objectives). EASA’s failure to adequately reason its conclusions also constituted an infringement of an essential procedural requirement.

4.2 We consider that the EASA working group that produced the proposals was neither sufficiently free from bias nor did it have sufficient capacity in the scientific and medical qualifications of its membership. In the event the group produced a set of proposals that were deeply flawed and then sought scientific, but not medical, advice and incorporated this advice as it saw fit but not in its entirety. To re-emphasise, though, these proposals have never been subject to medical evaluation.

4.3 EASA’s original scientific evaluation
In 2008 EASA commissioned a scientific evaluation of the EU’s current FTL rules, EU OPS Subpart Q. The report, called The Moebus Report, stated that:

· The allowed maximum daily flight duty period of 13-14 hours "exceeds reasonable limits" and is "not in keeping with the body of scientific evidence"; it should therefore be reduced.

· The allowed maximum of 11:45 hours night duty should be reduced to 10 hours, because of the particularly fatiguing nature of work at night.

· The allowed practice of 3 consecutive 60-hour weeks (i.e. 180 duty hours in 21 days) needs to be changed by setting an additional limit of 100 duty hours within 14 consecutive days (i.e. an average of 50 hours/week, instead of 60).

· Stand-by at the airport is as fatiguing as flight duty , and should not be considered as "rest" but "count 100% as flight duty when calculating the maximum flight duty period."

4.4 More recently EASA has commissioned further scientific reports which have reached similar conclusions.

4.5 Yet EASA has produced proposals that allow a maximum (pE) FDP of 20 hours, maximum (pE) night duty hours of 11 hours and does consider airport standby as rest. In Article 22 of the Basic EU Regulation EASA has the explicit obligation in law to base its proposals on scientific evidence.

4.6 Scientific evidence cited in the FAA rules
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published new FTL rules in January 2012. Quoting directly from those new regulations: "A study published in 2003 analysed the accident rate of pilots as a function of the amount of time that the pilots had spent on duty. The study [8] found that: ‘[T]he proportion of accidents associated with pilots having longer duty periods is higher than the proportion of longer duty periods for all pilots. For 10-12 hours of duty time the proportion of accident pilots with this length of duty period is 1.7 times as large as for all pilots. For pilots with 13 or more hours of duty, the proportion of accident pilot duty periods is over five and a half times as high’". This is a very important point which underlines why strong FTL regulations are needed and that the FAA understands this point while EASA seem not to.

4.7 An alternative approach to managing fatigue
Reliability standards are a cornerstone of aviation safety. This is where a precisely stated numerical standard for each of the safety critical sub-systems of the aircraft – the engines, the electrical and hydraulic systems and so on – is given. This approach is also taken with the medical fitness of the pilots where their medical certification standard is based on a numerical prospective risk of incapacitation. Over a decade up to 2003 the UK CAA spent some one million pounds on the "SAFE" computer program which has the capacity to predict, to a useful degree, the risk of involuntary sleep in pilots. This risk could be used to set a fatigue related incapacitation standard for pilots. We are disappointed that EASA has not considered this reliability approach and we have made complaint to the CAA that SAFE has still not been released to industry.

4.8 The CAA is likely to raise the matter of Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) which they seem to believe to be the answer to concerns about the permissiveness of the proposals. FRMS is a scheme whereby specific derogations are allowed by the CAA.

4.9 We do not believe that FRMS should be used as a substitute for a robust basic and legal scheme of flight time limitations.

5.0 How the new regulatory regime compares to that of other countries.
5.1 Comparing with the United States

As there have been a number of recent fatigue related fatal airline accidents and incidents in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) list of ‘Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements’ [9] includes dealing with pilot fatigue. And subsequently there has been a revision of the FAA’s FTL scheme published in January 2012. There are striking differences from the EASA FTL scheme. There can be no inclusion of standby time in the FDP so the 2 crew, 2 sector maximum (pE) FDP is 16 hours whereas in the EASA scheme it is 20 hours. However, the FAA also sets important overarching hard limits on flight time, the time that the pilot actually spends flying the aircraft. This means, assuming an allowance of 2 hours for pre-flight duties and turnaround, that the maximum (pE) flight time under the FAA regulations is 9 hours whilst under the EASA it is approximately 14 hours.

5.2 Other EU Countries

Objections to the proposals have come from a variety of groups from across the EU including safety organisations and Governments. In particular, the Danish Transport Minister has written to the EU Transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, raising concerns about the proposals. He wrote, "fatigue among pilots seems to be a more widespread problem than we have been aware of before." He also formally raised objections at the EU Transport Council in Luxembourg on 16 June 2011. In contrast, UK Ministers have raised no objections at all.

6.0 CAA/DfT position
6.1 We have been deeply disappointed by the failure of the CAA and Ministers in the Department to stand up for UK-level safety as a minimum requirement. Ministers have made it clear that they will abdicate responsibility for judging the safety of the scheme to the CAA. We do not believe the CAA has correctly judged the safety impact of what is being proposed.

6.2 The CAA submitted three areas of concern to EASA. These related to FDP for overnight operations, ‘recovery periods’ and a requirement for a 14-day duty hour limit. In none of these areas has the CAA’s concern been fully answered. We believe this should mean the CAA ought to recommend to the Minister to reject the proposals as they currently stand.

6.3 The position of the previous Government, as outlined to us in a letter from the then-Parliamentary Under Secretary of State was ‘…to maintain existing UK requirements unless they need amendment in the light of new scientific evidence, such as might emerge from a review by the European Aviation Safety Agency.’ Any reading of the science would show that CAP 371 might need amending only insofar as it is insufficiently robust, and not because more lax rules, such as EASA’s proposals, would be safer.

6.4 We believe that the CAA is struggling to reconcile its dual function as safety regulator and economic regulator which is impairing its ability to judge these rules correctly.

6.5 The Committee should note that the CAA is likely to refer to an overarching duty on operators to not construct fatiguing rosters. However, there is no definition of what constitutes a fatiguing roster out with CAP371 as currently exists or EASA’s proposals into the future. Any airline would assume, surely correctly, that if a roster is possible in the FTL rules then, by definition, it is not fatiguing.

7.0 Conclusion
7.1 EASA’s process was flawed from the start. EASA should have mandated scientific and medical experts in the field to construct a new scheme of FTLs based on scientific and medical evidence.

7.2 In this submission we have cited provisions within the EASA scheme which are grossly unsafe and increase the risk of a fatal air accident.

7.3 We would like to see high uniform safety standards, with CAP 371 as a minimum requirement, across Europe. We note with regret that this seems a distant possibility so we would like assurances that the UK Government will not support the adoption of these rules unless there are very considerable changes.

7.4 At the very least we require the UK government to commit to seeking a derogation for the UK if these rules are adopted in current, or close to current, form so that UK aviation safety standards are preserved.

7.5 Given the EU proposals have been developed contrary to EU law and EASA basic regulation, we would ask whether the UK government would be happy to defend these regulations should a fatal air accident occur where pilot fatigue is cited as a cause. 

February 2012


[1] http://easa.europa.eu/rulemaking/docs/crd/2011/CRD%202010-14/CRD%202010-14.pdf

[2] Cabon , P. et al. Crew sleep patterns of cockpit napping during transatlantic flightsXVIth International S ymposium on Night and Shiftwork, 17- 21 November 2003, Santos, Brazil.

[3] Telephone Polling conducted by Comres between 20th and 30th September 2011. Representative sample of 500 pilots.

[4] Calculated using the CAA-sponsored “SAFE” Program resulting in a Karolinska score equal to or greater than 8.

[5] Calculated using the CAA-sponsored “SAFE” Program and an output of blood-alcohol equivalence.

[6] Reason, J. (1990). Human Error . New York: Cambridge.

[7] http://www.easa.eu.int/rulemaking/docs/tor/ops/EASA-ToR-OPS.055%28a%29_OPS.055%28b%29-00-20112009.pdf

[8] Goode JH (2003). ‘ Are pilots at risk of accidents due to fatigue? ’ Journal of Safety Research, 34: 309-313.

[9] http://www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl-1.html

Prepared 24th February 2012