TRANSPORT: No clear line on flight-time limits after rejection
After the proposal on limiting flight time was rejected by the European Parliament transport committee (TRAN), much to the regret of Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, reactions are still very divided over the relevance of the vote (see EUROPE 10932). It is by no means certain that the plenary session will follow the TRAN recommendation. However, little time remains for the Commission to turn things around.
Under the comitology procedure, which does not allow any amendment, the proposal was thrown out with the adoption of the motion put down by the Greens/EFA and the GUE calling for rejection. Belgian MEP Isabelle Durant said after the vote that the proposal would have had “very negative implications for both pilots and crews, for labour law, and for risks related to flight times”, stating that “there are already well-documented cases of over-worked and exhausted pilots falling asleep in the cockpit, so it seems incredible that the European Commission should propose extending flight times”. She is convinced that the plenary session will take the same line as the TRAN committee, thereby forcing the Commission to go back to the drawing board. If this were to happen, the national rules currently in force will remain so until a new Commission proposal is adopted. Thus, for the transport spokesman of the Christian Democrats, Belgian Mathieu Grosch, the outcome of the vote is “regrettable” and resulted from “misleading rumours spread to give the impression that flying would become less safe because of the new European Rules”. In his view, when compared with national rules, the new European legislation would, “in almost every case” see safety levels maintained or even improved thanks to a better balance between flight and rest times. Socialist Said El Khadraoui (Belgium) said it remained important to be able to harmonise all national legislations, particularly as air traffic is predicted to continue to increase. The Commission proposals, then, provide an “acceptable compromise”. Between now and the plenary vote, he would nevertheless welcome guarantees from the Commission on the demands on pilots' and cabin crew unions.
Pilots and cabin crew, who were very active in opposing the proposals were jubilant after the TRAN committee vote. The European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) and the European Cockpit Association (ECA) await fresh proposals from the Commission. Their demands are for a 10-hour limit on night flight times (compared with 11 in the proposal) and a firm cap of 18 hours on the combination of a standby followed by flight duty (currently 22 hours, they claim). Also, they say, member states must be allowed to retain stricter rules, rather than having to harmonise their standards downwards.
The top-level representatives of associations of European airlines (AEA) and regional airlines (ERA) were hoping MEPs would back the Commission's proposals, and feel that the “false pretext” of safety is completely unjustified and unfounded.
It is likely that the Commission proposal will be put to the vote in plenary session next week, leaving little time for the Commission to make its case to the remainder of the European Parliament, regretted a Commission source (our translation throughout).