On December 21 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued its long-awaited final rule (pdf) governing rest periods and work hours for commercial airline pilots. In sum, the rule mandates that pilots work fewer hours and be provided with longer rest breaks between flights. Commercial passenger airline operators will have two years to make potentially significant changes to their pilots’ work schedules. The rule does not apply to cargo-only flights.
The impetus for this rule was the February 2009 fatigue-related crash of Colgan Air 3407 in Buffalo, New York. In response, Congress included provisions in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 that directed the FAA to establish regulations to address pilot fatigue. To that end, the FAA’s rule requires the following, as outlined in an FAA fact sheet:
- Rest Periods. Pilots must be given a 10-hour rest period between flights, eight of which must be allocated for uninterrupted sleep. This rest period rest is measured from the time that the flight crew member is released from duty. The prior rule provided for nine hours (reducible to eight under certain circumstances), and did not take uninterrupted sleep time into consideration. In addition, pilots must be free from duty for a period of at least 30 consecutive hours (up from 24) per week.
- Flight Duty Periods. The new flight duty periods range from 9-14 hours for single crew operations (down from a maximum of 16 hours under the prior rule), beginning when the pilot is required to report for duty and ending when the plane is parked after the final flight. This time period “includes the period of time before a flight or between flights that a pilot is working without an intervening rest period. Flight duty includes 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 Limits. Flight time is limited to eight or nine hours (depending on start time), beginning and ending from when the plane is moving on its own power.
- Cumulative Flight Duty and Flight Time Limits. The final rule imposes new weekly and monthly limits on work schedules to combat cumulative sleep deprivation and imposes monthly and annual limits on actual flight time.
- Varying Requirements. The rule takes into consideration pilots’ circadian rhythms by adjusting flight and duty time based on the time of day they begin their first flight, the number of scheduled flight segments, and the different time zones. Although prior rules set different rest requirements for domestic, international and unscheduled flights, these 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.”
- Split Duty. A pilot’s flight duty time does not include the time he or she is provided with a suitable rest period while on a flight, provided that this rest period occurs at night, lasts at least three hours during the flight, and is scheduled in advance, among other conditions.
- Reserve Status. The new rule mandates that pilots be provided a rest period of at least ten consecutive hours immediately before beginning a reserve period. The prior rule required only that the pilot be free from duty for 24 hours in any seven-day period.
- Fitness for Duty. The rule asserts that both the airline and the pilot are jointly responsible for fatigue mitigation. Pilots must attest that they are fit for duty. If the pilot reports that he or she is too fatigued to fly, the airline must remove the pilot from duty.
- Fatigue Risk Management System. The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 requires air carriers to maintain a Fatigue Risk Management Plan (FRMP). The final rule gives airlines the flexibility to adopt their own set of policies and procedures to combat fatigue.
- Training. The final rule requires airlines to provide annual fatigue education and awareness training for pilots, dispatchers, and other employees directly involved in the flight’s operation.
The FAA estimates that the changes required by this rule will cost the aviation industry $297 million. The agency’s final rule exempts all-cargo operations, as “their compliance costs significantly exceed the quantified societal benefits.” More information on the FAA’s new rule can be found here.
Photo credit: Monika Wisniewska