Pilot Fatigue Rule Wins Praise, Protest

The NTSB's chairman and the head of the FedEx branch of the Air Line Pilots Association International say it's a mistake that the rule does not cover cargo aviation operations.

The final rule issued Dec. 21 by the Federal Aviation Administration to limit pilots' flight and duty hours has won praise from the National Transportation Safety Board's chief, Deborah A.P. Hersman, but she and other groups say it falls short by holding cargo aviation to a lesser standard.

The FedEx Master Executive Council, which is the FedEx branch of the Air Line Pilots Association International, said the rule is a political failure because it ignores the safety of cargo pilots and lets operators choose to ignore the safety improvements that will benefit pilots carrying passengers. "It is outrageous that the new rule does not include cargo. Cargo aircraft operate into the same airspace, into the same crowded airports surrounded by millions of homes, and face the same challenges every other professional aviator encounters on a 24-hour basis," said FedEx MEC Chairman Scott Stratton.

He accused the FAA of honoring industry commenters who asserted that cargo-involved accidents primarily result in property damage, versus multiple deaths that would result from a passenger aircraft-involved accident. "This nonsense indicates the character of the political process that produced this rule," said Stratton. "It is clear that special-interest money and politics won over safety today, but we will not sit idly by and allow another 50 years of ambivalence to take hold. Our work to achieve a single level of safety as envisioned by the founding members of the Air Line Pilots Association International shall continue."

Hersman noted fatigue has been on NTSB's Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements since 1990, and pilot fatigue has been determined as a contributing factor in many crashes. Calling the rule "a long-awaited science-based rule for flight and duty time," Hersman said DOT and FAA leaders worked for years to complete the rulemaking.

"We applaud the leadership of DOT and FAA for bringing it across the finish line," she said. "While this is not a perfect rule, it is a huge improvement over the status quo for large passenger-carrying operations. Yet we are extremely disappointed that the new rule 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.' We look forward to working with the FAA and the aviation community to support the rule's essential education and training components and to identify areas where additional measures are needed.

The rule "is a major safety achievement," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Dec. 21. "We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue."

The rule sets different requirements for pilots' flight time, duty period, and rest based on the time of day the 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, but those differences were not necessarily consistent across different types of passenger flights and did not take into account factors such as start time and time zone crossings.

Under the rule, a flight duty period can range from nine to 14 hours for single crew operations, and it will include deadhead transportation, training in an aircraft or flight simulator, and airport standby or reserve duty if these tasks occur before a flight or between flights without an intervening required rest period. Flight time -– when the plane is moving under its own power before, during, or after flight -– will be limited to eight or nine hours, depending on the start time of the pilot’s entire flight duty period. The 10-hour minimum rest period is a two hour increase from the old rules.

Required training updates every two years will include fatigue mitigation measures, sleep fundamentals, and how fatigue is influenced by lifestyle, including nutrition, exercise, and family life.

The rule's estimated cost to the aviation industry is $297 million, with its benefits estimated by FAA at $247 million to $470 million. The agency said covering cargo operators under the new rule would be too costly compared to the benefits generated in that part of the industry, but it hopes cargo operators will choose to follow the new rule voluntarily.

The rule is available at http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/recently_published/media/2120-AJ58-FinalRule.pdf. It will take effect in two years, giving airlines time to implement it.

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