Today's News / Transportation Safety

FAA issues new rules to prevent pilot fatigue

Estimated cost: $297, estimated benefits: $247- $470 million

December 21, 2011
KEYWORDS airline / aviation / flight / pilot
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air travelThe Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced a sweeping final rule that overhauls commercial passenger airline pilot scheduling to ensure pilots have a longer opportunity for rest before they enter the cockpit. The latest fatigue science findings are incorporated in the new regulations.

“Every pilot has a personal responsibility to arrive at work fit for duty," said FAA Acting Administrator Huerta. "This new rule gives pilots enough time to get the rest they really need to safely get passengers to their destinations.”

National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said the new rule is a "huge improvement" for large, passenger-carrying operations, but expressed disappointment that it is limited to Part 121 carriers.

"A tired pilot is a tired pilot, whether there are 10 paying customers on board or 100, whether the payload is passengers or pallets. As the FAA said in its draft, 'Fatigue threatens aviation safety because it increases the risk of pilot error that could lead to an accident.' This is particularly a concern for crews that fly 'on the back side of the clock.'

The new rules:

• Vary flight and duty requirements based on what time the pilot’s day begins. Different requirements are set for pilot flight time, duty period and rest based on the time of day pilots begin their first flight, the number of scheduled flight segments and the number of time zones they cross. The previous rules included different rest requirements for domestic, international and unscheduled flights, which did not take into account factors such as start time and time zone crossings.

• Change flight duty period. The allowable length of a flight duty period depends on when the pilot’s day begins and the number of flight segments he or she is expected to fly, and ranges from 9-14 hours for single crew operations. The flight duty period begins when a flightcrew member is required to report for duty, with the intention of conducting a flight and ends when the aircraft is parked after the last flight.

• Limits flight time – when the plane is moving under its own power before, during or after flight – to eight or nine hours, depending on the start time of the pilot’s entire flight duty period.

• Sets a 10-hour minimum rest period prior to the flight duty period, a two-hour increase over the old rules.

• Establishes new cumulative flight duty and flight time limits on the amount of time a pilot may be assigned any type of flight duty. The rule also places 28-day and annual limits on actual flight time.

• Clarifies fitness for duty. The FAA expects pilots and airlines to take joint responsibility when considering if a pilot is fit for duty, including fatigue resulting from pre-duty activities such as commuting. At the beginning of each flight segment, a pilot is required to affirmatively state his or her fitness for duty.  If a pilot reports he or she is fatigued and unfit for duty, the airline must remove that pilot from duty immediately.

• Allows airlines to develop an alternative Fatigue Risk Management System based on science and using data that must be validated by the FAA and continuously monitored.

The estimated cost of this rule to the aviation industry is $297 million but the benefits are estimated between $247- $470 million. Covering cargo operators under the new rule would be too costly compared to the benefits generated in this portion of the industry. Some cargo airlines already have improved rest facilities for pilots to use while cargo is loaded and unloaded during night time operations.  The FAA encourages cargo operators to opt into the new rule voluntarily, which would require them to comply with all of its provisions.

The final rule will take effect in two years to allow commercial passenger airline operators time to transition.

The Department of Transportation identified the issue of pilot fatigue as a top priority during a 2009 airline Safety Call to Action following the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407. The FAA subsequently launched an aggressive effort to take advantage of the latest research on fatigue to create a new pilot flight, duty and rest proposal, which the agency issued on September 10, 2010.
 

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