Pilots, crew protest Europe-wide over working hours

On Monday, pilots and cabin crew demonstrated in Brussels and in 22 European airports to call for a cut in their working hours, which were deemed dangerous for passenger safety in a scientific report published over a year ago.


AFP - Planes will crash if flying hours for pilots are not cut, organisers of a Europe-wide protest action warned Monday, saying crew fatigue is as dangerous for passenger safety as pilots drinking.

Campaigners representing pilots, engineers and crew in 36 European countries distributed some 100,000 fake boarding passes with the slogan 'Dead tired' in airports across the continent.

They launched their protest in Brussels, calling for changes to European Union pilot fatigue law "to prevent such risks from turning into fatal accidents."

Campaigners warned that airlines are "more concerned with costs" after batterings first from oil price rises and then, after prices fell back, from a global recession hitting business and tourist travel.

Scientists from Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden want EU law changed in line with new US rules brought in after 50 people died in a crash in Buffalo, New York, this year.

"Pilot fatigue is considered to be a contributory cause to 15-20 percent of all fatal aircraft accidents," Martin Chalk, head of the European Cockpit Association, told reporters.

While he said there is as yet no equivalent test to determine fatigue levels, he said that "the effects of fatigue are as damaging as the effects of alcohol intoxication" or drugs.

The head of the association's cabin crew section, Inger-Helene Enger, warned that even longer hours for stewards can also prove lethal -- citing another accident in the United States.

On that occasion, a stewardess forgot to close properly the passenger entry door.

Research commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommended more than a year ago that pilots or cabin crew "should never be routinely asked to work for longer than 13 hours without a break" and that night-work should not exceed 10 hours.

Current EU rules allow for a minimum of 14 hours a day -- and 11 hours 45 minutes overnight -- with national safety bodies allowed, as in Britain, to authorise longer shifts.

The scientists' Moebus Report -- mandated by the EU in September 2008 -- said the risk of accidents is five-and-a-half times greater when pilots work 13 hours or more.

"Without hesitation, the US regulator has taken swift and decisive action," said campaign literature of the US response to the Buffalo crash.

An example of a "legal but unsafe" working schedule saw a Spanish pilot work 13 hours 35 minutes, going from Madrid to Malabo in Equatorial Guinea on Africa's west coast and back to Madrid, before undertaking a return trip to Moscow the next day in the last day of a 60-hour working week.

Protests took place in airports across Europe but individual pilots in Britain are banned from protesting on airport soil.

At Amsterdam-Schipol airport, around 60 pilots distributed 'Dead tired' material to passengers.

"We cannot accept working up to 12 hours at night," Frans Botmsn of the Dutch pilots union told AFP.

The EASA says it is still considering the scientific evidence before drafting new rules while the EU commission says it is treating the scientific report as a high "priority".

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