STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers voted on Wednesday for stricter flight time limits for pilots, which the European Commission said would improve safety, although opponents said they were not strict enough.
The European Commission says the new system will improve safety by enforcing best practice across the 28-nation bloc.
"It will bring better protection of passengers and safer working conditions for crew. This is a victory for common sense," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said in a statement.
Pilot fatigue has been blamed for a number of air accidents and near misses in the United States and Europe.
The British Airline Pilots' Association has expressed concerns that the new EU rules do not go far enough. In a survey, it found that more than half of British airline pilots said they had fallen asleep in the cockpit.
The EU rules cap a pilot's duty, including flight plus standby, at a maximum 16 hours, less than the 20 to 26 hours possible in some member states at present.
They reduce the limit for night flight duty by 45 minutes to 11 hours.
The Commission argues that the new limits are in line with scientific evidence.
The airlines have said harmonized rules are a step forward and that they are prepared to absorb the extra costs in the interests of greater safety. They have disputed pilots' arguments that the new rules are not strict enough.
However, pilots' unions say the safe limit is 10 hours. They say not enough is being done to counter competitive pressures within the industry, which mean flight crews work as intensively as possible.
Michael Cramer, a member of the European Parliament representing the Green Party, which opposed the new rules, said they were ill-judged.
"There are serious concerns about the implications of the Commission's proposal for pilots and cockpit personnel and ignoring these concerns will put lives at risk," he said in a statement.
Following the European Parliament vote, the Commission will formally enact the law. It should then come into force around the end of 2013 and be fully implemented two years later.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)