FAA Issues Pilot Duty Rule, Excludes Cargo Carriers
Nearly three years after the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo cast a spotlight on the working conditions of regional airline pilots in particular, the FAA has issued a new, stricter rule on pilot flight duty and rest requirements for passenger carriers operating under Part 121.
The final rule, announced December 21 in Washington, D.C., requires that pilots have a minimum of 10 hours rest before each flight duty period, an increase of two hours over previous rules; places new limits on the numbers of hours a pilot can fly weekly and monthly; and extends the length of consecutive hours off in a seven-day period from 24 to 30. If a pilot feels too fatigued to fly, the pilot is responsible for informing the carrier.
“The FAA expects pilots and airlines to take joint responsibility when considering if a pilot is fit for duty,” said acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “That includes considering fatigue resulting from any activities prior to duty. Before each flight, every crewmember must sign the flight plan affirming that he or she is fit for duty. If a pilot reports that he or she is fatigued, then the airline must remove the pilot from duty.”
Airlines have two years to comply with the regulation, which is expected to cost them $390 million. The rule excludes all-cargo carriers “because their compliance costs significantly exceed the quantified societal benefits.” The exception is one of several changes made in response to a September 2010 notice of proposed rulemaking that attracted 8,000 responses. In a footnote to the rule, the FAA says the projected cost for cargo operations is $306 million; the benefit of avoiding one fatal all-cargo accident ranges from $20 million to $32 million.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he will invite cargo carrier CEOs to Washington in January to encourage them to adopt the rule voluntarily .
Reaction was mixed. The Flight Safety Foundation applauded the rule as “an enormous step forward in safety management” and “a win-win for pilots and management.” National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman said the board is pleased with the FAA’s issuance of a “long-awaited science-based rule” but also “extremely disappointed” the rule is limited to Part 121 carriers. The Air Line Pilots Association noted “historic progress” toward ensuring safety, but also expressed disappointment that “cargo operations are being held to a lesser standard.”
The Independent Pilots Association (IPA), representing 2,700 UPS pilots, announced December 22 that it has filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the FAA’s exclusion of cargo operations in the final rule. William Trent, IPA general counsel, said the association will challenge the rule “on multiple substantive and procedural grounds.”
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