EU MPs reject move to harmonise pilots’ working hours

EU MPs have rejected the move to harmonise pilots working hours across the EU, The Telegraph has reported.

The harmonisation move could have effectively increased the working hours for British pilots. The vote by the EU and Transport and Tourism Select Committee was hailed by pilots unions, including the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), which had warned that it could put passenger safety at risk. However, the vote was condemned by the aviation industry.

‘We are really surprised after two years of consultation it can be rejected,’ said a spokesman for the European Low Fares Airline Association, whose members include Ryanair and easyJet. ‘There were penalties for airlines, which we accepted because of the benefit of harmonising arrangements across Europe.’

Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner, said, ‘This vote puts at risk key measures to improve aviation safety. Safety is the first priority for the EU and the sole objective of this revision. Pilot fatigue is a very serious issue and that’s why there are already strong EU rules in place.”

The all-party Transport Select Committee at Westminster, which shared BALPA’s concerns, said that the proposed changes would have led to a lowering of standards in the UK.

Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of BALPA, welcomed the decision saying: ‘British pilots with 40 million hours of flying experience between them and by the public, 90 percent of whom are concerned that a pilot could be landing their aircraft having been awake for 22 hours.

‘The commission must now go back to the drawing board and work with pilots and scientists to develop rules on flying time and tiredness that are based on evidence and expert experience.’

The vote comes after a BALPA survey found that nearly half its members had fallen asleep in the cockpit, with one in three saying that they had woken up to find their co-pilot also asleep. BALPA has warned the proposed changes would lead to pilots being awake for 22 hours if standby hours are taken into account, which could risk passenger safety.

The EU had said the changes were essential to ensure airlines in all 27 member states operated on a level playing field. According to proposed rules, pilots could work a maximum of 110 hours in a two-week period, more than the 95-hour limit under British regulations. At nights the flight limit would be extended to 11 hours from the current 10-hour limit.

Though endorsed by ministers, euro-MPs have voted by 20 to 13 to reject the move. A final decision is expected at the full session of the European Parliament later this year. If approved, the new rules drawn up by the European Aviation Safety Agency would have come into force in 2015.

 

Damning report on water quality at European tourist destinations

The EU has released the details of a survey on water quality around Europe, revealing that the quality of water at some of the continent’s leading tourist destinations is falling short of the required standards.

The findings raise concerns over health issues for the millions of travellers that visit the worst affected destinations each year, with 6,311 European towns and cities being cited for providing water that does not meet the EU’s environmental standards. Among them are Pisa in Italy, Ayia Napa in Cyprus and Balaton in Hungary.

Even a number of Europe’s foremost capital cities and most popular destinations for weekend city-breaks have drawn criticism for their water quality, including Rome – Italy, Madrid – Spain, Budapest – Hungary, Sofia – Bulgaria, and the home of the EU headquarters, Brussels – Belgium. But while UK residents might be putting their health on the line when holidaying at resorts in Spain, Italy and Greece, they can be satisfied that they are at little risk on home soil, with Britain being one of the nations that complies fully with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive legislation, which has been a benchmark for European water treatment and handling since the 1990’s.

A number of MEPs are pressing for funding to improve Europe’s water, and a decision on possible expenditure from the EU Cohesion Fund is expected later this year.

The report’s findings were presented by Romanian MEP, Victor Bostinaru, who, said, ‘This report demonstrates the scale of the problem that exists across the 27 EU member states. The quality of water in many countries has to improve and the money needs to be found to make it happen – starting with the city of Brussels, in which the European Union’s institutions are based. As we prepare to commit billions of euros of investment to infrastructure projects, through the EU Cohesion Fund, we must demand improvements from these failing cities, regions and countries.’

New Euro rules give more rights to air passengers

The European Commission is set to introduce new rules that will give more rights to air passengers.

The Commission has laid down new rules that make European airlines more liable for a range of customer services issues, including long terminal delays, runway delays and lost baggage. Scheduled for implementation by 2015, the new rules will put the onus on air carriers to reroute passengers with a competitor airline if they have been delayed for more than 12 hours and no alternative aircraft can be located.

Delays on board the aircraft due to congested runways are also addressed, with a ruling that when such delays last an hour, the airline has a responsibility to provide toilet facilities, drinking water and air conditioning, and if the delay extends to five hours, passengers must be allowed off the aircraft.

Other amendments that address issues that have long been a bugbear to passengers include the right to use the return part of round-trip ticket without having used the outbound; where a name is incorrectly spelled on a ticket it must be amended free of charge; and an explanation for any delay must be issued no later than 30 minutes after the aircraft’s scheduled takeoff time.

Financial compensation becomes due to passengers on EU or international flights shorter than 3,500km when they are delayed by more than 5 hours; on flights of 6,000km that are delayed for 9 hours; and for flights of a longer duration that are delayed by 12 hours.

However, airlines only have to pay for a maximum of three nights hotel accommodation for extended delays, and with regards to complaints, they have a week to acknowledge receipt and a maximum of two months to provide a formal reply.

Siim Kallas, EU transport commissioner, was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, ‘It is very important that passenger rights do not just exist on paper. We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters most – when things go wrong. We know that the real priority for stranded passengers is just to get home. So our focus is on information, care and effective rerouting.’

The proposals will be subject to approval by EU member states.

European Union Announces New Passenger Name Record Agreement with US

The European Parliament, the governing body for the European Union (EU), has voted in favour of a Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement with the United States of America.

The new agreement will allow participating countries to access the data of passengers travelling to the US, to be used in fighting international crime and terrorism. The agreement is also said to ensure the legal protection of PNR data for the individual, with data protection safeguards on storage time and use of the data, as well as administrative and judicial remedies. The new agreement replaces a provisional agreement that has been effective since 2007.

European Union home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, said in a statement, ‘I welcome today’s vote of the European Parliament giving its consent to the new Passenger Name Record Agreement with the United States of America. This is an agreement the three EU institutions can be proud of: it provides stronger protection of EU citizens’ right to privacy and more legal certainty for air carriers than the existing EU-US PNR Agreement from 2007. At the same time, it fully meets the security needs of the United States of America and the EU. It will be made anonymous six months after a passengers’ flight. EU citizens will be informed about the use of their data, and will be able to access and request the correction or deletion of their PNR data. The new agreement is a substantial improvement on the existing Agreement from 2007, and I am pleased that the European Parliament has recognised this today.’

European Commission Releases Statement on bmi Sale

The European Commission (EC), the executive body for the European Union, has released a statement defending its decision to approve the sale of British Midland International (bmi), an airline owned by Germany-based Lufthansa, to British International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways.

Earlier Virgin Atlantic, an airline subsidiary of UK-based Virgin Group, had announced its intention to appeal against the sale of bmi, although the sales process will not be affected by this appeal. Virgin Atlantic has claimed that the EC has approved the sale too quickly, and the 14 airport slots that BA are giving up at Heathrow airport, as a proviso of the £172.5 million deal, were insufficient to ensure healthy competition in the UK aviation market.

In a statement, the EC has clarified its stand by saying, ‘We are confident that the commitments proposed by IAG address all competition issues identified and we stand by our decision to clear the transaction subject to these conditions.

In this case, a decision was reached in 35 working days, which is not particularly fast. For example, out of 319 adopted merger and acquisition decisions in 2011, 98 percent were adopted within this timeframe.

Moreover, as described in our best practices guidelines, the commission held in-depth pre-notification contacts with the parties as early as November 2011, well before the notification took place on February 10, 2012.’

Virgin Atlantic will be able to appeal to the General Court of the EU within two months of publication of a full report by the EC on the sale of bmi to IAG.

Slovenia receives EU boost

Last year alone, over half of all European holidaymakers planned to enjoy a vacation in their home country. With many predicting the trend to continue into 2012, the European Commission, through its initiative, “European Destinations of Excellence” (EDEN) is urging Europeans to discover the breadth of hidden treasures on their doorstep.

Destinations will compete to be awarded the destination of excellence, focusing on a different theme each year. Maša Puklavec, from the Slovenian Tourist Board said: “Slovenian EDEN destinations are shining examples of sustainable tourism and provide an unforgettable experience for visitors that seek inspiration and enjoyment in scenery landscapes.”

In 2011, winning destinations were singled out for playing a key role in reviving their region, bringing sustainable development and new life to run-down cultural, historical, and natural sites and acting as a catalyst for wider local regeneration. 

Famous for its mercury mine and lace making, Slovenia’s winner, Idrija, is a fascinating destination with spectacular scenery. Picturesque mountains, pristine forests, and Lake Wilde create a breathtaking landscape. Its rich cultural, natural, and industrial heritage is treasured by local people proud of their history.

The competition in 2010 celebrated destinations for innovative approaches towards aquatic tourism. The River Kolpa was selected as Slovenia’s winner. The river is considered the longest Slovenian “coastline” and one of the warmest rivers in Slovenia. The river is particularly popular in the summer months, as the water`s temperature rises up to 30°C. Visitors can choose between a wide range of sports and recreational activities, such as boating, canoeing, kayaking, or rafting.

In 2009, EDEN focused on tourism in protected areas. The Alpine scenery of Sol?avsko offers breathtaking natural sites. The three mighty glacial valleys are the main highlight of any stay. The most visited is the Logarska dolina nature park with picturesque views of the mountain chain of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps and the spectacular waterfalls. A lot of interesting hiking trails lead visitors into the lap of the Alps. A number of old stories reveal connections between people and nature and invite them for unforgettable experiences.

Find out more about EDEN’s destinations in Slovenia at http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/sectors/tourism/eden/

Chinese airlines refuse to pay EU carbon charge

China’s four leading airlines are refusing to pay a carbon dioxide tax under the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Becoming the latest in a list of international carriers who are refusing to pay the tax.

 

In a bid to combat carbon emissions the ETS charges were introduced on Sunday, this means all airlines using EU airports are expected to comply with the cap-and-trade scheme.

 

Deputy secretary-general of the China Air Transport Association (CATA), Cai Haibo said: “China will not cooperate with the European Union on the ETS, so Chinese airlines will not impose surcharges on customers relating to the emissions tax”.

 

The new ETS system requires airlines flying to or from Europe to obtain carbon dioxide emission certificates. By doing so they will get free credits to cover the majority of flights this year, however must buy or trade for credits to cover the rest.

 

Airlines could face fines of 100 euros (£83) by EU law, for each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted that the airlines have not surrendered carbon allowances. If airlines continually break the law the EU can ban the operator.

 

In December a ruling from Europe’s highest court decided that the airlines were to comply with the ETS, this news came immediately after a news agency warned of a trade war in China’s state-run Xinhua.

 

The country join the U.S. who have warned of a possible retaliation, the U.S. Congress have drafted a law in which it proposes to make it illegal to comply with the EU legislation.

 

Cai announced in response to its carbon emission charges Chinese airlines may consider taking legal action against the EU. However U.S. airlines lost their legal battle in December.

 

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg dismissed arguments that their latest system infringes national sovereignty or violates aviation treaties.

 

China however, may have unusually strong leverage in its dispute against Europe because its state-owned airlines carry vast amounts of Chinese and other Asian tourists to Europe.

 

CATA have estimated that the ETS will cost Chinese airlines a shocking 800 million yuan (£79 million) in the first year, and by 2020 the figure will have more than tripled.

 

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

90% of UK beaches do meet water standards

Out of 502 beaches and bathing sites in England and Wales only ten failed basic water quality standards, new government figures have revealed.

 

Water quality met EU standards at 90 per cent of beaches, however although these figures are much improved on the figures of only 86 per cent last year, many have criticised the quality standards, which were made 35 years ago.

 

Campaigners have claim, “meeting an outdated and inadequate standard is nothing to shout about”.

 

“Almost all of our beaches meet the minimum standards now, compared to just three-quarters in 1991,” said Christine Tuckett from the Environment Agency.

 

But Andy Cummins, from Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Many beaches may be meeting woefully inadequate water quality standards set down 35 years ago, but this still leaves bathers exposed to significant numbers of sewage spills, with possible serious health implications.”

 

New more stringent standards are planned to come into force in 2015, Tuckett revealed. And work to tackle persistent sources of pollution and make sure as many beaches as possible pass these standards is underway.

 

“We are moving in the right direction,” said Cummins. “The top end of the new standards will give you some pretty good water quality.”

 

The Environment Agency stated it had helped gain further investment from the water industry for environmental improvements.

 

New EU proposals could see tired pilots flying ‘drunk’

A proposal by the EU to increase the time pilots are on duty could see them flying with levels of fatigue equivalent to five cans of larger.

 

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has said that pilots could see their duty hours rise from nine to almost thirteen hours.

 

Union representatives told MP’s this new proposal would see pilots flying with fatigue that’s equates to being four times over the legal alcohol limit. MP’s at Westminster were presented with this evidence, which was calculated using a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) computer programme.

 

Flight safety and security head, Dr Rob Hunter, said: ‘Alcohol and lack of sleep affect our abilities in similar ways’.

 

He added ‘The limit on pilots’ blood alcohol is rightly set down in law. The Government cannot say on the one hand that flying while over the alcohol limit is unsafe – which it is – and at the same time do nothing to oppose regulations which would allow pilots to be flying equivalent to four times that same limit’.

 

The European Aviation Safety Agency has stated that consultations were on going and no changes would come into effect until next year. There will be other beneficial changes such as increased rest at a destination for ‘significant time zone crossing’.

 

Flying hours will be cut to 1,000 on a current 1,200-hour EU limit per 12 calendar months.

 

A spokesman for the Department for Transport has said: ‘The safety of passengers is paramount, we will not allow this to be compromised. While the European Aviation Safety Agency’s final proposals have yet to be set out, we will seek to use subsequent negations to ensure any new rules provide adequate protection against fatigue’.

 

Until the CAA is satisfied that this has been achieved, the UK will not vote in favour of any rules.

 

The authority said it was ‘awaiting final recommendations’ from the EASA, questioning the comparison of alcohol intake and fatigue made by BALPA.