We live in interesting times. In the past two weeks EASA has ordered immediate checks on the main rotor gearboxes of Super Puma helicopters, following a recent crash in the North Sea – showing how quickly the industry can act when safety is at stake. So why is it that the key safety issues of flight time limitations and crew fatigue – about which there are decades of research on which to optimise them - is still open to conjecture and the subject of an EU review?
Current European legislation on flight time limitations (EU OPS sub-part Q) is primarily based upon operational experience, but now EASA has chosen to add science to the mix – based upon its Moebus Aviation Report, which aimed to provide scientific and medical answers to 18 EASA questions. These questions were designed to assess the scientific soundness of Sub-Part Q, but all the results have produced is a plethora of protests about what fatigue science is. Indeed, one leading expert in sleep and fatigue science has reportedly said that the Moebus Report contains some “risky assumptions”.
No-one denies that defining fatigue limits is an inexact science, given the disparities in human metabolism, but surely enough research has been done to arrive at rules which are practical for operators and sensible for air crew?
Yet, despite these muddied waters, the EC and European Parliament have been asked to review all the data and determine some optimum rules. Let’s hope it’s not too tiring.