FAA Passes Rule to Avoid Pilot Sleepiness
In December, the Federal Aviation Administration passed a ruling that will require commercial passenger airlines to limit the amount of time that pilots are allowed to fly. For decades, safety advocacy groups have been urging the FAA to update its rules on pilot work schedules. Past efforts have failed, largely because airlines and pilot unions could not agree on changes to pilot work schedules. But the new FAA ruling passed, giving pilots more time to rest between flights.
The FAA called the new ruling a “major safety achievement,” and it passed in large part due to the passionate and consistent lobbying of the families of the people who died when Continental Airlines Flight 3407 crashed into a house just five minutes short of Buffalo-Niagara International Airport in February 2009. Following a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, the board found that the accident was due in part to pilot fatigue.
Components of the new FAA ruling include:
- The length of time a pilot is allowed to fly depends on when the pilot’s day begins, and the number of flight segments he or she is expected to fly, and ranges from nine to 14 hours for single crew operations.
- Flight time when the plane is moving under its own power before, during or after flight is limited to eight or nine hours, depending on the start time of the pilot’s entire flight duty period.
- Pilots must have a 10-hour minimum rest period prior to the flight duty period — a two-hour increase over the old rules. The new rule requires that pilots have an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep within the 10-hour rest period.
- The rule also places 28-day and annual limits on a pilots flight time. It also requires that pilots have at least 30 consecutive hours free from duty on a weekly basis, a 25 percent increase over the old rules.
The FAA expects pilots and airlines to work together to determine if a pilot is fit for duty, or not. Before any flight, a pilot is required to affirmatively state that he or she is fit for duty. If a pilot reports he or she is fatigued and unfit for duty, the airline must remove that pilot from duty immediately.
Reaction to the New FAA Ruling
Aviation safety advocates are feeling relieved about the new FAA safety rulings, and feel it was a long time coming. Some airlines, however, aren’t as positive. Some cargo airlines feel the new rules will be too costly to follow. The aviation industry has estimated that the new ruling could cost them $297 million, but the benefits are estimated to be between $247 and $470 million. Some cargo airlines have been proactive in improving rest facilities for their pilots to use while cargo is loaded and unloaded at night. The FAA has asked the cargo carriers to voluntarily follow the new time limits.
The final FAA rule has been sent to the Federal Register for display and publication, and will take effect in two years to allow commercial passenger airline operators time to adapt and transition.
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