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Wednesday, 17 January 2001 - Strasbourg OJ edition

8. Civil aviation

  President. – The next item is the report (A5-0393/2000) by Mr Simpson, on behalf of the Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism, on the proposal for a European Parliament and Council regulation amending Council Regulation (EEC) No 3922/91 on the harmonisation of technical requirements and administrative procedures in the field of civil aviation.


  Simpson (PSE), rapporteur. – Mr President, I have been given a very generous eight minutes on my report here in front of this packed Chamber this evening – I suspect that is because many people find this report quite technical and detailed.

Whilst drawing up the second liberalisation package in 1989, the Council and the Commission agreed that Community air transport policy had to address the harmonisation of the regulatory framework applicable to civil aviation. Subsequently, Council Regulation 3922/91 was established in which the technical requirements, known as Joint Aviation Requirements, formulated by the JAA, were given the force of law within the Community.

It is against this background that the Joint Aviation Requirements, known as JAR-OPS, agreed by the JAA in 1995, are now being transposed into European Union law. This in itself has proved to be a difficult exercise. But the Community has committed itself to adopting harmonised safety requirements for the operation of aircraft. In this regard, the JAR-OPS 1 Regulation constitutes a good basis from which we can work, with minimum changes, in order to amend the appropriate regulations.

However, there are areas in which Parliament needs to act. Firstly, in regard to cabin crew. Operators should have the responsibility for training, but this should be done on a harmonised basis, with a distinct, uniform, European-wide certification system which would be accepted by all Member States.

There is no doubt in my mind that in most cases the operators are best qualified to organise training. But this should not preclude other qualified organisations from having the possibility to do training, providing, of course, that all training is approved by the National Civil Aviation Authorities. In addition, the cabin crew directive should now be incorporated into this regulation.

Secondly, the difficult issue of flight time limitation was not addressed by the Commission. The relevant part, known as Subpart Q, is missing. This is nonsensical, because you cannot have a directive which purports to have safety as a major part of it leaving out the issue of duty time for cockpit crews. In this area, the social partners have been trying to reach an agreement for ten years. Ten years and no agreement must be a failure by any measurement you wish to adopt.

However, the Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism recognise that the best people to deal with this problem are indeed the trade unions and the airline operators and, in a spirit of compromise, have agreed to give all sides until 1 May 2001 to reach an agreement that will form the text of a new Subpart Q.

However, should they fail in their endeavours then, at the second reading stage, Parliament, through the Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism, will act and legislate in this area. I am hopeful that the relevant social partners will reach an agreement. I am grateful to them for their current efforts.

Amendments have been proposed that also look at the problem of cabin baggage. Sadly, airlines at present do not strictly enforce cabin baggage regulations, which has led to passengers bringing more and more bags into airline cabins. Amendment No 16 addresses this problem, which was highlighted to me by the cabin crew themselves and even some airlines.

I find it totally amazing that groups in Parliament will vote against this amendment. This is a safety issue, and as their rapporteur I would ask them to seriously reconsider their opinion. This amendment is totally acceptable to all airlines and cabin crew and it in no way stops passengers having cabin baggage. What it does is stop the excessive cabin baggage which has led to passengers being injured from luggage falling out of overhead bins; to passengers having restricted access in case of emergency evacuation procedures and, which I know from my own experience, to aircraft toilets being used to carry bags.

Whilst I appreciate that MEPs are amongst the worst culprits for excessive cabin baggage, I would hope their sense of responsibility would enable them to recognise that a problem exists, that this problem compromises safety and that Amendment No 16 should be supported.

I believe that the report before us is worth supporting. However, in conclusion, I feel I must reiterate the warning I made earlier that we need an agreement on flight time limitation before 1 May from our social partners. If they can deliver that agreement for us, then I believe we will have a document that we can rightly be proud of. I have to say that if they fail in their endeavours, I am sure Parliament will feel obliged to act on their behalf.


  Schmitt (PPE-DE) . – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Simpson, we have to agree with much of what you said. It is true that it became clear in 1989 with the liberalisation package that the European Community must not only ensure fair competition but must also ensure safety in aviation. The present amendment of the regulation aims to do that and I think it is right for the European institutions to clearly assume their responsibility. That means that if we are responsible for regulating aviation safety in Europe, we must also take the appropriate action.

But at the same time we must also make it clear that Parliament and political bodies such as the Commission and the Council should not disregard the vote of experts. So I very much welcome the fact that we held a very pragmatic debate in committee and nobody really tried to enter into the details of the technical rules or, so to speak, to put political knowledge above the knowledge of the experts.

You quite rightly also pointed out, and I think that is quite clear, that we need rules on duty time, and I myself am surprised that in spite of this long process the social partners have still not managed to put rules together. That is why I also think it is right for us as Parliament to make it clear once again that we expect the social partners airlines and employees' representatives to fulfil their obligation. We are prepared to introduce this into the regulation too, at second reading. On the other hand, we are equally prepared to put our own rules in place if the social partners do not fulfil their obligation. For one thing is quite clear: safety in aviation must take priority.

Yet safety in aviation cannot be ensured just by having rules, especially not overarching rules. That is why I also say quite plainly: however much we can agree with large sections of the report, we do not consider it appropriate for Parliament to introduce its own detailed provisions into this regulation in certain areas under the heading, for instance, of "one cabin crew member operations" or length of experience, i.e. how long someone has already served as a cabin crew member. So unfortunately we will not be able to vote for your Amendments Nos 9 and 10, which concern such proposals.

I was somewhat surprised to see how intently the Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism considered and discussed the question of hand baggage. In my view that is not an issue for a parliament to discuss and I can only say to Mr Simpson and my other colleagues: let the airlines regulate that; it is not the job of Members.


  Bouwman (Verts/ALE).(NL) Mr President, Mr Simpson, Commissioner, I hoped for a moment, just after seeing the news – and in fact things were looking a bit that way – that we would start with a debate on fox hunting, which will doubtless prove to be an extremely lively debate in Britain’s House of Commons this evening. We are also going to be discussing dangerous matters here.

We highlighted one particular aspect recently at any rate, that of the flight time of pilots, and we also put questions to the Commissioner on the subject at an earlier stage. I am delighted that a situation has arisen in the meantime in which the partners have had it pointed out to them once again that they still have the chance to enter into consultation or reach agreements. If they do not do so then, as others have already said, this will automatically mean asking the Commission to draw up legislation in this area which will at least prevent accidents from occurring as a result of pilots spending too long at the controls.

Research from which we once obtained answers now takes too long, and these negotiations could speed this up, and perhaps in time we will gain an even better understanding of what all the important factors might be.

One aspect that we did not raise during the discussions, because it only came into play later on, is the one that we have also tabled an amendment on, namely that of long haul flights. It is becoming increasingly apparent – and claims to this effect are now being made not only in Australia, but also in England, concerning British Airways – that long haul flights can cause people to develop thromboses. We cannot yet be completely certain of this, nor do we have all the relevant facts in our possession yet, but we recognise the seriousness of the situation all the same, and wonder if it would not be sensible to request the Commission – via an amendment in this case, otherwise we will do so using other means – to come up with some initiatives on this front.

Finally, and this is something we have given no thought to hitherto, there is the fact that some aviation companies with large aircraft are starting to fly at a higher altitude, which also produces symptoms of illness. We will revisit this issue at a later stage.


  Speroni (TDI).(IT) Mr President, Mr Simpson's report is truly excellent, and I am qualified to say so for I consider myself to be one of the few people who are familiar with the technical as well as the political side of the sector, having recorded almost 10 000 flight hours precisely as a member of a flight crew before devoting myself to politics.

I would point out that safety is the priority in air transport. Safety can be considered to be based on two elements: the technical element, such as the resources, aircraft, airports, radio aid, air traffic control and so on and so forth, and then the human element, which is extremely important and, although not the principal cause, has been found to be a contributing factor in an extremely high percentage of aircraft accidents. The human element is, of course, extremely complex and, for simplicity's sake, can be divided into two main categories. One of these is training, and in this area all the appropriate controls and checks must be carried out. I can say from my own experience that flight crews are properly trained for, apart from anything else, there are no substandard pilots. As a general rule, substandard pilots do not fly: they are all resting in peace underground. The other category is workload.

The problems here are enormous: on the one hand, there is the need to make both aircraft and staff fly as much as possible, and on the other, there is the need to avoid pushing human beings, especially, beyond their physical and mental limits. Sleep, the disruption of circadian rhythms and so on clearly influence flight safety as well as the personal health of the members of the flight and cabin crews.

Here, then, is the gap in the regulation, for it considers primarily the technical aspect of the resources – aircraft load factors, loading operations, length of runways, screen heights etc. – but it is effectively lacking in any provisions on the workloads of the staff. I am not talking as a trade unionist here but precisely as a user of air transport who would dearly like to have a guarantee – although I regret that a 100% guarantee is impossible – which is as high as possible and avoids excessive exploitation of the human element which is liable to have serious or even fatal consequences.

Another factor to be taken into consideration is competition. If there are no standard rules, some of the airlines who exploit their staff will be able to reduce their costs and therefore offer more competitive prices, distorting what ought to be fair competition in a sector which is now almost completely liberalised. However, we could even go so far as to talk of unfair or irregular competition if this factor were not taken into account, and I wonder at the fact that neither the Union as a whole nor Parliament, specifically, has succeeded in regulating the matter satisfactorily. Parliament should feel truly ashamed at not having managed to express a clear opinion or produce an effective definition of all aspects of the issue.


  Jarzembowski (PPE-DE) . – (DE) Mr President, Vice-President of the Commission, I consider this regulation extremely important and after all the European Parliament has been calling for an improvement in aviation safety since 1987. That means we must also regulate the flight and rest times of the cockpit crew as of the cabin crew. I agree with the previous speakers that we should give the unions and the airlines a last chance to settle this issue between themselves, working jointly and pragmatically.

Of course we have agreed that they must reach an agreement by May next year. Madam Vice-President, please tell your services that if they have not done so by the end of May we will no longer play the game that has been played for six years, namely with the Commission waiting for the parties to reach agreement. But they have not reached agreement. The Commission behaved very politely and did not make any proposals of its own. Either the parties agree by May, or we expect the Commission to put forward a proposal that we can incorporate in the second reading. For it is unacceptable not to regulate a question that is crucial to passenger safety, namely whether the captains, the crews, have had enough rest to be able to carry out their duties. These issues must be settled.

Let me address a second point that caught my attention at the December Council meeting. If we adopt a position at first reading, in fact at Parliament's final vote tomorrow, then I insist as I am sure my colleagues will also do on the Council deciding a common position. It can wait till May, till the two parties have reached agreement. But in the interests of passenger safety in Europe we cannot accept no decisions being taken on aviation until the supposed settlement of the Gibraltar conflict. The Commission and Parliament should jointly see to that.



  Foster (PPE-DE). – Mr President, as mentioned in 1989, the Council and the Commission agreed that they had to address the harmonisation of the regulatory framework applicable to civil aviation in order to maintain a high level of safety and to ensure fair competition in the internal market. Hence, the Community adopted Council Regulation 3922/91.

This regulation listed a number of technical requirements – JARs – produced by the Joint Aviation Authority. It was not the purpose of this regulation to re-open a debate on the substance of JAR: the purpose was to ensure harmonisation. In addition, it should be recognised that JAR-OPS has been implemented on a national basis and is applicable to European countries outside the EU. Therefore changes must be kept to a minimum as there cannot be two different sets of operational regulations in force across Europe.

The Commission's original proposal highlighted four areas which were found to be incompatible in EU law: exemptions, leasing, registration and cabin crew training. Unfortunately, the debate so far has centred on cabin baggage and flight time limitations for flight crew.

On the first point – cabin baggage – the amendments are anti-competitive and cannot apply to third-country carriers. Sufficient regulation is already in place, which does not allow on board hand baggage which cannot be safely stowed – I can vouch for that as a cabin crew member for 26 years.

On my second point – flight time limitations, which are already highly regulated and agreed through national governments – civil aviation is now included in working time regulation.

Irrespective of the decision taken on 1 May, this issue would have to be referred back to national governments for further discussion. It is not for Parliament to legislate on flight time limitations.

Finally, I believe that in future safety and highly technical reports such as this should be subject to a simplified procedure in order to process necessary changes more speedily.


  Rack (PPE-DE) . – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, there are some things that are not quite as we would wish them to be in European aviation. Last year, in particular, showed us repeatedly that it is high time to find more common European solutions to ensure that flying in European airspace follows orderly lines again, not to speak of the great dream of limitless freedom above the clouds conjured up by Reinhard Mey.

But first and foremost, flying must be safe. We all want flying to remain safe, to see further improvements here in the forefront the rapporteur, Mr Simpson, to whom we owe thanks for an excellent report.

There are, however, different views on how to achieve greater safety. I and luckily I am not alone in my view would hope that we leave the practical task of regulating the safety provisions, especially in regard to cabin crew and the accompanying provisions on crew training, to the European Aviation Safety Authority. Surely it should be enough for the European legislator to set out the objectives, rather than getting bogged down in too much detail. Unfortunately, this position did not gain consistent majority support in committee. As a result the text we will be voting on tomorrow includes some rather too detailed provisions, for instance on the kind of training course required and so forth. Perhaps less would be more in this case.

Be that as it may, Europe still has a great deal to do on the question of aviation. As we saw in Nice on a very general basis, here too on a more specific basis we could plead for fewer national solutions and a more European approach. The Simpson report is a good step along this road. Let us take that step tomorrow and then pursue it further in a politically convincing manner.


  Ripoll y Martínez de Bedoya (PPE-DE).(ES) Mr President, Vice-President of the Commission, in the past, Parliament has continually demonstrated its commitment to the harmonisation of safety standards at the highest possible level for the Union. Now it must continue to do so, and to ensure, as a matter of urgency, that this is clearly visible to the European citizens, who every year continue to suffer the problems of the European area.

We all agree that the objective is to successfully do away with national discrepancies in order to arrive at a set of common safety standards at the highest possible level. Air safety cannot be confined to European Union territory, and it is important for European citizens who travel or live near airports to be confident that aircraft from third countries fulfil all the necessary safety criteria. The Union must therefore have control methods to ensure that, in accordance with international regulations, third country aircraft arriving at our airports comply with international safety regulations. This means common control methods and technical and administrative organisation and support.

It is therefore inevitable that safety in this sector should become a matter for international cooperation within the framework of the different instruments for technical assistance and support for investment in third countries.

Mr President, I will end by pointing out the need to assist the Commission in its work in this very complicated field and the priority which must be given to creating the European Air Safety Agency, as well as the need for independent regulations, which we are currently considering, on issues relating to rest periods for aircrew.


  De Palacio, Commission. – (ES) Mr President, I would firstly like to thank Mr Simpson for his magnificent work as rapporteur on this proposal. I believe that his work has contributed a considerable amount to this Parliament’s understanding of a very technical and complex proposal and it is of course no easy task to translate it into a language which is accessible to the average citizen. In this respect I believe that he has been very successful.

Having said that, the amendment we are proposing to the Regulation currently in force has twin objectives: firstly, it intends to move forward with the harmonisation of the regulatory system in the field of safety in civil aviation by extending it to the harmonisation of the operational requirements for aircraft; secondly, it intends to establish procedures which will allow the Community to manage the variables and exceptions which the Member States are obliged to adopt from time to time as a result of operational needs.

With regard to technical requirements, the report mainly deals with two aspects. In accordance with JAA regulations, which lay down the requirements, the Commission’s proposal does not contain any provisions on flight and duty times or on rest periods. This is a very controversial issue and the reality is that no agreement has been reached in this regard within the JAA.

Of course, the Commission hopes that the negotiators representing the operators and the crews will be successful, and Mr Simpson has urged them to reach a voluntary agreement on safety systems relating to flight and duty times and rest periods. If they are not capable of reaching agreements by May, we will then have to consider whether or not we should act.

In any event, of the relevant amendments, the Commission accepts the spirit of Amendments Nos 12, 13 and 17, but with a different wording.

With regard to Amendment No 1, the Commission shares Parliament’s desire to regulate the safety of flight and duty times and rest periods, but prefers that compliance with this objective not only be pursued by means of the specific proposal that we are debating today. There are other possibilities, such as amending the Regulation after the adoption of the present proposal. I would like to add that any proposal presented by the Commission in the future will have to guarantee the high level of safety that we all wish to see. Therefore, if the Commission makes use of the voluntary agreement between the negotiators, to which I have just referred, to produce a proposal, it would amend the agreement where necessary in order to achieve the necessary high level of safety. With this reservation, I repeat, the Commission accepts the spirit of Amendment No 1.

Various amendments have also been adopted on the requirements applicable to cabin crews. While this proposal deals with the operational requirements of cabin crews, the training and professional qualification requirements are the subject of a separate and supplementary Commission proposal. We must take care to ensure that the two texts are in agreement and compatible with one another.

Amendments Nos 9 and 10 can be accepted without changes, but the wording of Amendments Nos 6, 7, 8 and 11 will have to be modified, as well as Amendments Nos 12, 13 and 17, which we now accept only in principle, and their wording will also have to be modified.

Finally, the amendments on technical requirements, specifically Amendments Nos 4, 5 and 16, are acceptable, although the final text of Amendment No 4 will reflect the solution to the problem in question as found by the Council.

In relation to the procedures for the approval of temporary variables and exceptions, the Commission does not accept Amendments Nos 2, 14 and 15. The Commission is already under institutional obligation to carry out the consultations laid down in the amendments.

Likewise, Amendment No 3 must be rejected, since derogation of the Regulation is envisaged once the European Air Safety Agency has been created.

Lastly, with regard to Amendment No 18, the two issues it addresses are concerned more with the health of passengers than the operational safety of flights. As was mentioned in the Communication on the protection of air passengers, the Commission intends to establish groups of experts to examine the risks to passengers’ health, including those resulting from cosmic radiation, with the aim of determining what these risks are and proposing the necessary measures.

With regard to the specific issue of arterial thrombosis – which has been raised by some of you – the Commission has written to the airlines to request that they provide passengers with information on the risks, on factors for predisposition and on what they can do to minimise those risks, specifically in relation to the problem of thrombosis and in relation to health problems in general. The Commission considers that such information would be a very valid precaution and that it would be appropriate in terms of improving passengers’ rights.


  President. – Thank you, Commissioner.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12 noon.

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