WASHINGTON – Airline pilots will fly shorter shifts and get longer rest periods under new rules the Federal Aviation Administration finalized Wednesday in a landmark effort to prevent dangerous fatigue.
Existing rules dating to the 1960s were riddled with loopholes. Between overnight shifts of up to 16 hours, the eight hours of rest could include eating, showering and getting to a hotel. Carriers could extend the workday if a pilot was flying an empty plane.
Under the new rules:
•Flight-duty times would range from nine to 14 hours. For the first time, rather than just counting flight time and rest time, flight-duty time would count the time spent flying to the job, which is sometimes called dead-heading, as if the pilot were working.
•Flight-time limits will be eight or nine hours, depending on the start time of the pilot's entire flight duty.
•Minimum rest periods will be 10 hours between shifts. The pilot must have an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep during that rest period.
•There will be cumultative rest times. Pilots must have 30 consecutive hours of rest each week, which is a 25% increase over current standards.
"Every pilot has a personal responsibility to arrive at work fit for duty," said FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta. "This new rule gives pilots enough time to get the rest they really need to safely get passengers to their destinations."
Huerta said the FAA developed the rules with scientific research about the time of day pilots are flying, the number of flight segments and the number of time zones crossed.
Scott Maurer of Moore, S.C., whose 30-year-old daughter Lorin died in the Colgan crash, welcomed the two-hour increase in required rest periods for pilots as "definitely a positive." But he wanted to review the detailed tables about many hours a pilot can be on duty during a day in order to gauge how effective the rule is.
"Quite frankly, sometimes the devil is in the details," Maurer said. "We know there was an awful lot of lobbying money leveraging against this thing."
Development of the rules pitted the pilots, who advocated greater rest for safety, against the airlines, which argued that limiting flight times will raise costs.
The FAA estimated the changes would cost airlines nearly $300 million a year. But Airlines for America estimated it could cost $2 billion more each year.
Another dispute in development of the rules was whether to apply the same rules to cargo pilots as pilots of commercial airliners. The FAA decided not to apply the rules to cargo pilots because of the costs to that industry, Huerta said.
LaHood said he would invite cargo executives to his office in 2012 and urge them to voluntarily adopt the changes.
"It was tough to implement it on cargo because of the cost-benefit to this," LaHood said.
The package-delivery company UPS argued in comments to the FAA against the same standards because cargo pilots fly mostly at night and carry fewer people. The company's 2,600 pilots have gotten used to flying at night and sleeping by day, so limiting consecutive overnight flights would disrupt them.
The company warned that nighttime restrictions would require them to hire more pilots and install sleeping facilities on some planes.
Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association for UPS pilots, blasted the exemption for cargo pilots.
"Giving air cargo carriers the choice to opt-in to new pilot rest rules makes as much sense as allowing truckers to 'opt-out' of drunk-driving laws," Travis said. "To potentially allow fatigued cargo pilots to share the same skies with properly rested passenger pilots creates an unnecessary threat to public safety."
Mike Mangeot, spokesman for UPS in Louisville, thanked the FAA for its careful consideration in recognizing that rules should differ between cargo and commercial carriers.
"One size has never fit all when it comes to crew rest regulations," Mangeot said. "UPS places the highest emphasis on the safe operation of our airline."
The National Transportation Safety Board has urged safety enhancements to reduce pilot fatigue for decades. Although the board didn't blame fatigue as a cause in the Colgan crash near Buffalo, the board found that neither pilot appeared to have slept in a bed the night before.
Relatives of the victims lobbied Congress for better schedules to give pilots rest. The relatives also urged FAA to complete the rules that were due Aug. 1, but were delayed with review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
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