European air crews say to strike over safety

BRUSSELS Fri Nov 30, 2012 7:17am EST

An Airbus A380 flies through cloud during a display flight at the Farnborough Airshow 2012 in southern England July 9, 2012. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

An Airbus A380 flies through cloud during a display flight at the Farnborough Airshow 2012 in southern England July 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European aircrews plan a one-day strike in January to campaign for fewer hours and longer breaks to end what they say are dangerous working conditions that lead to tiredness and raise the risk of accidents.

Pilot fatigue has been blamed for air accidents and near misses and in the United States, which have led to the implementation of rigorous rules on rest periods.

Europe's Aviation Safety Agency EASA has not done enough to improve scheduling rules, so workers will stage a one-day walkout on January 22 next year, lobby group the European Cockpit Association (ECA) and the European Transport Workers' Federation said in a statement on Friday.

"For years now, aircrews have been waiting for safe rules to counter the dangers of crew fatigue on flight operations," ECA President Nico Voorbach said.

"Surveys show that pilots and cabin crew are already struggling with high levels of fatigue, nodding off at the controls of aircraft."

The campaigners say the European Union is lagging behind the United States in implementing tougher standards.

Reforms implemented there after the crash of a U.S. commuter flight near Buffalo in 2009 spurred a review of working time rules.

Investigators said the crash of Colgan Air 3407, which killed 50 people, was not directly caused by fatigue, but said that crew was probably over-tired.

This led the U.S. air agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, to introduce a rule last year calling for pilots to work fewer hours and have longer breaks between shifts, in a move airlines said would cost them millions in labour.

European pilots are demanding similar changes be made in the European Union, and say that a proposed change to the rules by watchdog EASA made in October does not go far enough.

"If the Colgan Air accident showed us something, it's that a tired pilot is a dangerous pilot. EASA's rules fail to address this and this must change today," Voorbach said.

The new EU rules proposed so far are expected to be adopted in summer 2013, but must be reviewed by the European Commission, the EU's executive, and approved by member states.

The unions represent more than 38,000 pilots and 100,000 aircrews across Europe.

On Thursday, ground and cabin crews at Spanish airline Iberia, part of International Airlines Group IAG.L, said they will stage a series of strikes in December, disrupting the holiday travel season to protest against massive job cuts. (Reporting By Ethan Bilby; Editing by Barbara Lewis and Mike Nesbit)

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