European pilots accused the European Union Monday of dragging its feet in implementing stricter safety rules to combat pilot fatigue which research suggests is a key factor in up to 20 percent of fatal air accidents.

Outside the EU head office — and at 22 European airports — pilots and cabin staff issued fake boarding passes to the public containing health warnings resembling those on cigarette packages.

The European Cockpit Association, representing 38,200 pilots, said the EU's European Aviation Safety Agency refuses to act on a report by an independent experts that recommends fewer flight hours to combat fatigue in pilots and cabin crews.

ECA President Martin Chalk accused airlines of causing the delay for fear of higher staff costs and urged the European Commission to nudge its aviation safety agency into action.

Chalk did not name European airlines his union feels are unsafe because of excessive flight times.

Daniel Hoeltgen, a spokesman for Cologne-based EASA, rejected the pilots' complaints.

He said EASA published the flight time report in January and is consulting with the International Civil Aviation Organization. The safety agency plans to hold a public consultation on air crew fatigue and then draft new flight time rules that are scheduled to take force in 2012.

"The pilots are jumping the gun," He told The Associated Press. "We are not reducing our review of flight times to this one study."

The study was carried out by Moebus Aviation, a Swiss consultancy in Zurich, in 2008.

It found EU rules on day and night time duty hours for pilots and cabin crew too long. For instance, maximum night duty, now limited to 11.45 hours, must be cut to 10 hours, it recommended.

While the European pilots union said the report is based on scientific evidence, EU airlines say it is "flawed" and "unconvincing."

EU flight time rules are very complex and let national governments set higher standards through national regulations or collective labor agreements between airlines and their employees. Several countries, including Britain and the Netherlands, have opted for that.