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Cap on pilot flying hours proposed

New limits on flying hours for commercial pilots have been put forward by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in an attempt to reduce the dangers of aircrew tiredness.

The new rules would standardise current national regulations and would bar airlines from scheduling pilots to be on duty - both waiting to fly and in the cockpit flying - longer than 14 hours during the day, and 12 hours at night.

Currently, each country operates according to its own rules. In Britain, for example, pilots are not allowed to be on duty for longer than nine hours a day. Elsewhere in Europe, especially in the east, that limit is much higher.

"The (document) requires all operators to ensure that the performance of crew members will not deteriorate to the extent that flight safety is endangered because of the effects of fatigue," EASA said.

An EASA spokesman said the proposal would be submitted for comments to the airlines, pilots' unions and air safety groups before a final recommendation is handed to the European Union next year.

Air safety organisations have been pressing for years for tighter regulation and enforcement of working hours and rest periods, driven by worldwide concerns about exhausted pilots working taxing schedules.

They say scientific research has identified the fatigue phenomenon - which resembles alcoholic intoxication - as a factor in a fifth of all fatal crashes worldwide.

The European Cockpit Association, representing 39,000 European pilots, said the agency had buckled under pressure from the commercial carriers.

The group, which also opposes efforts by budget-strapped airlines to extend pilots' work hours, said the EASA proposal ignored research into fatigue, which recommends a maximum of 12 hours on daytime duty and 10 hours at night.

But for the Brussels-based Association of European Airlines, which brings together Europe's major airlines, the EASA's proposal was "substantially balanced."

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