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European Commission


Brussels, 4 October 2013

Pilot and crew fatigue — frequently asked questions

What are the current rules?

Europe has built up an impressive safety record over recent years, and last year became the safest region in the world to fly – with the lowest accident rate ever. This safety record is built on a combination of EU and national safety rules, including rules covering pilot and crew fatigue.

The EU current safety rules on pilot and crew fatigue were established in 2006 under Regulation (EC) No 1899/2006 (EU-OPS). These mandatory EU flight duty limitations and rest requirements (or "FTL") for aircrew are usually referred to as "Subpart Q"). The aim is to ensure that flight and cabin crew members perform safety functions on board of aircraft at a proper level of alertness.

In a nutshell, the current EU rules require Member States, airlines and aircrew to ensure safe duty rosters. They cover, among other issues, flight duty limits per day, week, month and year, in addition to minimum rest per day and month depending on previous duties. The current rules leave a number of specific aspects of FTL to Member State discretion and most Member States have adopted national rules to address them.

The EU has one single aviation market, logically it should be governed by one common set of safety rules applicable to all operators. This work, to set EU-wide safety rules has been on-going since 2003, including for FTL.

What is the problem? Why do we need to upgrade the EU rules?

The FTL rules are today the only EU aviation safety rules still outside the common legislative framework of the basic EU safety regulation. This creates confusion as to who is responsible for what and makes it more difficult to ensure and oversee the correct implementation of FTL rules.

In practical terms the FTL rules,

  1. FTL rules need to be updated in line with the latest scientific, operational and international developments. These include fatigue risk management, maximum flight time and duty limitations, recurring rest periods and rules in case of disruptive schedules.

  2. The current patchwork of national provisions make it difficult to achieve legal certainty and importantly also a level playing field among EU operators. In addition, national differences can result in airlines exploiting differences to their advantage, such as by artificially moving the home base of a crew member.

  3. Certain rules in Subpart Q need to be updated and clarified – as they have been interpreted and implemented in different ways and required to be clarified.

  4. Furthermore, in certain areas of FTL, the rules applied by Member States differ significantly without a clear safety justification.

For these reasons, in 2009 the Commission tasked the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to work out a possible revision of the current FTL rules in light of the latest scientific and technical evidence, and best practice. In general, the existing EU FTL rules were adequate, but needed some adjustments.

In addition, the Commission asked EASA to clarify:

  1. the calculation of the maximum daily flight duty; and

  2. to fill the gaps left by current rules, mainly concerning in-flight rest and standby.

What are we proposing?

The Commission, based on recommendations from EASA and stakeholders, has proposed a new regulation to update Subpart Q and the current national rules which complement Subpart Q. Overall, it can be said that for some Member States the regulation is quite similar to what they already have today, for other Member States it represents a significant strengthening of key parts of their FTL regime. The new regulation will offer the EU one of the most modern and strict FTL regimes in the world.

All measures covered by EASA in its 2012 technical opinion to the Commission, and included in the Commission proposal, aim at increasing safety, either through more coherent legislative and administrative framework, more protective rules (for example, in terms of additional rest or reduced duty periods) or through the clarification of the existing rules.

There are five key areas which are tackled in the new regulation:

Night-time duty

The Commission wants to tighten the rules on night-time flight duty to a maximum of 11 hours. The current EU rules set the maximum limit for night duty at 11h45. The 11 hour restrictions will be a major step forwards.

Currently, no EU Member State has such restrictive night-time rules in place – only the UK with a night-time duty limit of 11:15 is close.

In addition, under the new rules:

  1. more flights will be considered night flights and subject to shorter duty periods;

  2. new provisions will means that operators will have to manage actively night duties longer than 10 hours using fatigue risk management principles.

Cumulative fatigue

Cumulative fatigue is a key part of the existing EU rules. However, the new proposal goes a lot further to strengthen protection in this area:

  1. The limit on total flight time in 12 consecutive months will be reduced from the current 1 300 down to 1 000 hours.

  2. The proposals introduce a new additional cumulative duty limit of 110 hours per 14 days. There is currently no such limit.

  3. A new prolonged recovery rest period of 48 hours twice a month versus the current 36 hours.

  4. It also introduces new additional rest (weekly rest of 60 hours instead of 36) in case of disruptive schedules.

Home base

Home base is an important factor in determining rest periods. Under the current EU rules but there are no specific limits to the number of "home bases" that can be assigned, and the rules can be misused. Under the new rules, these provisions are greatly strengthened with:

  1. A new requirement that a single airport location must assigned with a high degree of permanence.

  2. A new and increased extended recovery rest period prior to starting duty after a change of home base.

  3. A new provision to ensure that travelling between the former and the new home base counts as duty, not private time.

  4. And new requirements on "horizontal rest" – during flight this must be on seats meeting mandatory construction standards vs current regular economy class seats.


Every day, airlines needs a number of pilots and cabin crew to be on standby, to step in when a scheduled crew is prevented from taking up duty. Standby can be at the airport or at home. Under the new EU rules,

  1. Maximum combined duration of airport standby followed by flight duty will be limited to 16 hours, following which there has to be a rest period.

  2. Currently, this is set nationally. In some Member States there are no limits and in others is can go up to 26 hours.

  3. For home standby, the maximum flight duty limit starts counting after 6 hours of standby, regardless of whether the crew is actually called up. In this way, the combined duration of home standby followed by flight duty cannot realistically exceed 18 hours.

  4. The current rules for home standby are national. These existing rules either do not to set a limit at all, or are must less restrictive. For example, standby at home, can go up to 24 hours including in Germany, France and Belgium. After those 24 hours pilots are still allowed to fly to the maximum flight duty time. These rules will continue to apply if the new Regulation is not adopted.


Currently rest is covered by a combination of EU and national rules. These will now be strengthened at EU level with the introduction of

  1. New protected 8-hour sleep opportunity;

  2. New increased rest at destination;

  3. New additional rest after alternating rotations east–west / west–east;

  4. New provisions on minimum rest at home base measured in local nights with a minimum of 2 local nights after significant (4 or more) time zone transitions depending on the number of time zone crossed and the duration of the time spent away.

Other issues

  1. Particularly important for cabin crew are new measures on horizontal rest during flight on seats meeting mandatory construction standards versus current regular economy class seats. This is essential for proper rest.

  2. Time window during which the maximum flight duty period is limited to 11 hours is extended to cover 12 hours between 17:00 and 05:00.

What happens next?

The new regulation was approved by an overwhelming majority of Member States at the EASA Committee held on 11 July 2013. It was then transmitted to the European Parliament and Council for scrutiny. The scrutiny period ends on 25 October. If the European Parliament accepts the regulation, the Commission will formally adopt it the coming months and it would enter into force around the end of 2013, with a two-year transition period.

If the European Parliament decides to block the draft regulation, this would have negative effects on safety as a series of clear improvements in crew protection against fatigue would not be adopted. We would revert back to the old rules of "Subpart Q".

Below are 10 key examples of concrete safety improvements which would be lost if the new regulation on aircrew fatigue cannot be adopted:

  1. Night flight duty will go back up to 11h45 instead of 11h in the new regulation. Only one EU Member State has set lower limits under national law (11h15); nowhere is the limit below 11h. Moreover, more flights will be considered daytime flights and subject to longer duty periods.

  2. Standby at home will no longer be limited to 6 hours when combined with maximum flight duty time. The limits set under national law will apply or the airline will decide. Standby can go up to 24 hours including in Germany, France and Belgium. After those 24 hours pilots are still allowed to fly to the maximum flight duty time.

  3. The combination of standby at the airport with flight duty will not be capped at 16 hours. It will be 20 hours or 26 hours, or even without limit at all in some Member States.

  4. No single home base will be assigned to a crew member. Current rules do not set any barrier to frequent changes of home base as the airline practice is today.

  5. Total flight time in 12 consecutive months will not be limited to 1000 hours but to 1300 hours.

  6. There will be no increase of the weekly rest by 12 hours twice a month.

  7. Time zone crossing will not be compensated with up to five days of rest at the home base; instead it will be two days or even less in some Member States.

  8. Flight and cabin crew will not be entitled by law to horizontal rest during flight in most Member States. Current national rules allow airlines to offer only economy seats for rest.

  9. No additional rest will be provided for schedules that disrupt crew members’ body clocks (like early starts and night flights).

  10. National oversight authorities will have less access to information on how specific airlines manage fatigue of their crew members.

FURTHER BACKGROUND: Frequently asked questions

Why is there such an intensive lobby on this issue? Surely the pilots know what's best for them and for safety?

Some pilots believe they will lose out with the new Regulation, in particular those pilots who benefit from the most protective collective agreements, often in traditional airlines. Their belief is unfounded, because the new Regulation will not affect those collective agreements. The most protective rule always applies. Therefore flight crew will not be harmed by the new Regulation.

In reality the vast majority of pilots and cabin crew do not benefit from such agreements. Today most flight crew work for charter and low-cost air carriers. The new Regulation would bring not only stronger safety but at the same time would bring concrete improvements in working conditions because of its strict limits on standby and flight time and minimum requirements for rest.

We have read and heard the articles and programmes in the media recently which paint a picture where most pilots fall asleep in the cockpit and suggesting that safety rules in Europe are completely inadequate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Europe has built up an impressive safety record over recent years, and last year became the safest region in the world to fly – with the lowest accident rate ever. This has been achieved with today's safety rules, which are a combination of EU rules (so-called Subpart Q) and national rules in Member States.

The Commission agrees with the unions that crew fatigue is an important safety issue. That is why Europe needs a strong set of rules. If these rules are not respected, or a pilot faces an unsafe situation because of fatigue, he is obliged to report such incidents to the authorities. Safety policy is based on analysis of such reports, and the analysis done over past years did not show a dangerous trend in fatigue related incidents. By the way, pilots are allowed –and even expected– to take short sleep during the cruising phase of a long flight, while the second pilot and the autopilot look after safety. The story about an incident where two pilots allegedly fell asleep at the same time on an Airbus flying for a British company this summer received a lot of media attention but has now turned out to be false.

What are the main myths which are circulating – what are the facts?

Myth #1

'The proposal allows crews to be on standby for 8hrs and to consequently take a flight duty of up to 14hrs, landing after 22+hrs on duty/awake.'

Not true. The combination of airport standby plus flight duty period will in fact be capped at 16 hours. Currently such combination can reach 20 hours or 26 hours, or can even be without limit at all in some Member States.

As regards the combination of standby outside the airport (e.g. at home) and flight duty, 100% of the time above 6 hours spent on standby is subtracted from the allowable flight duty assigned afterwards. Moreover, the rules will protect crew from being called out unnecessarily during the night, e.g. for a duty which will start only at noon. A crew member will have and must use sleep opportunities during a standby period. Thus, the combination of standby outside the airport with flight duty cannot realistically lead to a period of more than 18 consecutive hours awake, of which no more than 14 hours can be spent on board an aircraft. Currently, standby outside the airport can go up to 24 hours including in Germany, France and Belgium. After those 24 hours pilots are still allowed to fly to the maximum flight duty time. These rules will continue to apply if the new Regulation is not adopted.

Myth #2

'The proposed rules contain a large number of provisions that are counter to what scientific experts consider safe. Whilst the Commission allows 11–12hrs 30 min flight time at night, scientific experts consistently recommended a maximum of 10hrs as being the safe limit.'

Not true. As regards night flights, there is one specific study from 1998 referring to a specific long-distance flight operation which, given the circumstances of that operation and within the regulatory context at the time, recommended a 10-hour limitation of (night) flight duty. This study does not, and does not claim to, provide scientific evidence for a universal 10-hour limit, nor did it look into the effects of any of the planned new rules such as additional rest requirements connected to night flights. There are no other studies to support its claim, and it would be unscientific to extrapolate its findings.

The new EU rules will in fact reduce the limit for night flight duty from today's 11h45 to 11h. Only one EU Member State has set lower limits under national law (11h15); nowhere is the limit currently below 11h. In fact, the comparison of night duties of different length with SAFE (System for Aircrew Fatigue Evaluation) showed that shortening the maximum night flight duty period below 11 hours does not significantly improve the alertness scores at the end of such period. Europe has had an excellent safety record, indeed the best ever in recent years, under those rules. The analysis of safety occurrence data gathered over preceding years has not shown that the limit of 11 hours at night poses a safety risk.

Moreover, under the new rules more flights will be considered night flights and subject to shorter duty periods. Also, in the case of night duties, airlines will be required to plan additional rest. In case of long duties they will be required to use fatigue risk management and monitor the pilot's individual situation taking account of the duties and rest taken before the night flight. Europe will have one of the most protective systems for night duty in the world.

Myth #3

'The new rules are unsafe and not scientifically-based. They will only worsen the situation of air crews flying while dangerously fatigued.'

Not true. Over several years EASA, with the support of three independent scientific experts specialised on aircrew fatigue, has reviewed and validated more than 50 different scientific studies and compiled safety data and best operational practices from throughout the European Union. As a result of a long preparation process, including two rounds of public consultations and two impact assessments, proposed limits are equally or more protective to the crews than those currently in force in the Member States. In the rule development phase EASA was assisted by a group of experts from the EU stakeholders concerned, including a balanced membership of 5 Member States, 5 members of aircrew organisations and 5 members of airlines organisations.

20 meetings with the group of experts were held between December 2009 and September 2012. Three independent scientific experts specialised on aircrew fatigue were consulted to review the existing scientific literature. The Commission consulted the EASA Committee (the competent regulatory Committee for providing its advice on the draft Commission Regulation) on 24-25 October 2012, 2-3 December 2012, 19-20 February 2013, 23-24 April 2013, and 10-12 July. The new Regulation is strongly supported by the experts of the Member States.

When the new Regulation is adopted, Europe will have one of the safest and modern flight duty regimes in the world. Throughout Europe, it will provide equal or better protection to crew and passengers than today's combination of EU and national Member State rules.

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