FAA Delays Issuing of Final Pilot Rest Rule

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: August 26, 2011
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In 2009, a Colgan Air turboprop plane crashed near Buffalo, New York. Investigators looking into the crash pinpointed pilot fatigue as cause of the accident in which 50 people were killed.

The incident forced the FAA to finally propose legislation regarding pilot rest times and fatigue – regulation that hadn’t been revised in decades despite the growth of the commercial and cargo airline industry. Fatigue experts, pilot unions, airlines and sleep researchers were consulted in creating the proposed rule. The rules would have given pilots longer rest periods between shifts and reduce the maximum hours they can fly under conditions deemed fatiguing.

The proposed rule was based on the latest scientific understanding of how fatigue slows human reflexes and erodes judgment.

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Summary of provisions of proposed rule

Among the highlights of the provisions of the FAA’s proposed rule are:

  • Pilots can fly more hours (10 instead of the current maximum of eight) if they begin in the daytime with most of the flight taking place in the morning
  • Pilots should be given a minimum of nine hours off between work shifts, one hour more than currently required. "Unforeseen circumstances" may lower that to eight hours
  • Pilots who fly overnight would be allowed fewer than eight hours
  • Airlines should provide 30 consecutive hours weekly of time off to pilots and attempt to guarantee at least eight hours sleep between shifts
  • Pilots would have the right to decline a flight if they feel fatigued, without retaliation by management.
  • The new requirements apply to domestic, international and charter operations
  • Airlines have to add one or two relief pilots to the normal two-pilot flight crew on long, overseas flights
  • Airlines have to provide onboard rest facilities and sleeping accommodations at destinations more frequently.
  • Airlines that provide a bunk for the pilot to lie flat for a nap would be allowed to fly longer without changing crews.
  • The rules allow for up to 18 hours of flight duty time designated as "augmented" if conditions based on an aircraft's rest facility, a flight's start time and its crew size are met.
  • Airlines would have to put in place "risk management" programs designed to spot work schedules likely to prevent pilots from getting adequate rest and correct them.

Response from industry associations

According to the Associated Press, airline industry officials were nearly unanimous in their opposition. The Air Transport Association, which represents large carriers, estimated that the proposal would cost airlines nearly $20 billion over 10 years.

The FAA estimated the costs to be much lower, at $1.2 billion. The agency also said that these would be partially offset by an estimated $660 million in benefits over the same period.

The National Air Carrier Association, a group representing small carriers that operate flights for the military and businesses, said that the FAA should develop different standards for its members. UPS, the world's 9th largest airline with more than 200 planes and over 2,600 pilots, estimated that its compliance costs at as much as $1.8 billion over the next decade.

Criticism for delay

The Air Line Pilots Association, the nation's largest pilot union, said that it was unacceptable that a safety regulation was being held up by commercial interests.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Debbie Hersman said the agency had been pleased with how quickly the FAA had issued the rule but that it was now caught up in politics and being opposed by special interests.

New timeline for final rule

According to Bloomberg, the FAA is "working aggressively" to complete a new rule and that it hopes to issue this in late November.

Additional resources

-    Read the proposed FAA rule on pilot fatigue in full

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