UK pilots' union warns MPs of risks from EU flying rules

UK members of parliament were warned yesterday that the new European rules increasing pilots' flying hours could end up risking passengers' lives due to tired pilots falling asleep or making an error.

The pilots' union, British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa), said that even under the present system, which limited the amount of time pilots could spend in the air after waking, around half of its members admitted nodding off in the cockpit.

Giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee, the union's head of safety, Dr Rob Hunter said the real figure might be much higher as it was likely to be under-reported due to pilots not being aware they had dozed off.

Balpa is opposed to the harmonisation of rules between Britain and the rest of Europe as it was concerned some pilots could be working up to 22 hours at a stretch under the new regime. Current safety laws allow this to be only 16 and a half hours.

According to the union, human error caused up to 80 per cent of crashes and that the new standards from the European Aviation Safety Agency meant pilots would be "more tired more often", and thus more likely to make a mistake.

According to Balpa general secretary, Jim McAuslan, compared to the UK's domestic rules, the EU proposals would see pilots [flying] further – as far as California – with no back-up crew and, contrary to scientific advice, allow pilots to do up to seven early starts in a row, which was desperately fatiguing.