Pilots fear new hours will 'court disaster'

First published in News Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , Ilkley/Otley Reporter

The pilots’ union has claimed people living near Leeds-Bradford International Airport could be in danger from proposed new pilot fatigue rules.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) says proposed European Union rules allowing longer pilot flying times could lead to a disaster similar to the Colgan crash in New York state three years ago, leading to the death of 49 people.

That incident saw a plane crash 9.3km from the end of a runaway and has been blamed by some people on pilot tiredness, and Balpa say a similar incident at Leeds-Bradford International Airport could see an aircraft crash on an area of Bradford or Leeds.

But last night, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) played down the union claims and said there is an excellent safety record in the United Kingdom and the new rules, if implemented, would work.

A statement from the CAA said there were initial concerns about the rules suggested by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) but after discussions, suitable changes have been made to the rules, which could come into force later this year across Europe.

However, Jim McAuslan, Balpa general secretary, claimed the proposed rules, which would allow pilots to work longer hours, were “unscientific and unsafe”.

“The Colgan Air incident was caused partly because the pilots were too tired to fly safely,” he said.

“The EU wants us to substitute our relatively good domestic rules with unscientific and unsafe European rules which would make pilots more tired more often. And, of course, the most demanding part of any flight is the landing which is when the pilots would be the most tired.

“EASA should throw out these unsafe rules and start again, or at least make significant improvements to them. If that doesn’t happen, the UK Government must pledge to say no and retain our current UK fatigue regulations.”

He said a poll of British pilots revealed 43 per cent reported falling asleep on the flight deck and of those, 31 per cent per cent had woken to find the other pilot asleep.

In a statement, the CAA said no-one in the United Kingdom would accept an unsafe set of rules.

“The CAA did have concerns over some elements of the previous proposals from EASA – we put those objections forward, worked with EASA and are pleased to see that changes have been made in the latest proposal to address our prime concerns,” the statement said.

“Overall we now think the current proposal, together with other regulations, such as the European Work Time Directive, and our continuous oversight of airlines, provides a package that will work for Europe.

“It will raise safety levels across many countries whose airlines UK citizens use which currently have lower levels of regulation on pilot hours and, as part of the overall UK safety regulation regime, maintain the level of safety we have in the UK.”

A spokesman at Leeds-Bradford International Airport said it was a matter for airline companies.

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