30th May 2012 9:07am | By Laura Chubb
Changes to pilot working time regulation could put safety at risk on commercial flights, MPs have warned.
A House of Commons transport committee said that draft proposals by the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) could undermine UK safety standards.
The British pilots' union, Balpa, has also criticised the proposals, claiming that under the new regulations, a pilot could be required to land a plane 22 hours after having woken up in the early morning.
A poll of pilots by Balpa also showed that 43 per cent of pilots admit falling asleep involuntarily while on duty.
The current limit on the length of time that a pilot can fly in one stint is 13.25 hours. This can be extended by up to three hours by the aircraft commander.
The House of Commons transport committee chair, Labour MP Louise Ellman, said: "Current EU proposals risk making the situation worse, by lowering the UK's current standards. A lowest-common-denominator approach to safety will not benefit passengers, airlines or crew."
Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan added: "This report should be a wake-up call to the government that it must stand up for UK-level aviation safety standards and not allow them to be watered down. This is not for pilots' sake, but for the travelling public."
However, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) - the UK's aviation safety regulator - played down concerns, and said that the 22-hour claim would be an "extreme" case.
The authority admitted that in some cases flight hours would be extended, but argued airlines would be required to manage fatigue with greater vigilance.
A CAA spokesman said: "We think the current proposals, amended by our ongoing input, provide a sound basis to maintain the UK's current high safety levels and actually increase safety for UK passengers travelling on some other European airlines.
"This conclusion is based on expert knowledge, operational oversight, research projects, engagement with scientists and analysis of the evidence."