FAA Issues New Pilot Fatigue Rules

December 21, 2011

A Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 is shown on it's acceptance flight at Pearson International Airport, Toronto, Ontario on June 10, 2008. A commuter aircraft similar to the one shown crashed into a home and exploded in Clarence Center, N.Y., Thursday night Feb. 12, 2009. Authorites say 49 people are dead after a commuter plane crashed into the home in suburban Buffalo and erupted in flames late Thursday. State police say all 48 people aboard the Continental Connection Flight 3407 are dead. Clarence Center emergency control director Dave Bissonet says the crash also killed one person on the ground (AP Photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS - Andrew H. Cline)

Today the FAA announced sweeping new rules to address pilot fatigue, one of the contributing factors in the Buffalo-area crash of Continental Flight 3407 nearly three years ago.

The rules include:

+ Limiting the maximum amount of time pilots can be on duty to between nine and 14 hours; previously the FAA allowed pilots to be on duty for up to 16 hours per day.  The new rules also limit the pilots’ flight time to eight or nine hours.

+ Implementing a minimum of 10 hours of rest — up from a previous minimum of eight hours — before a duty day.

+ Requiring pilots to state their “fitness for duty” before each flight segment.

+ Requiring airlines to develop a pilot fatigue plan.

These rules have been delayed twice, in part due to lobbying from the cargo industry; as expected, the new rules will not include cargo carriers. According to the FAA’s press release about the new rules, covering cargo carriers:

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.

“Today marks a very important day in pilot safety,” said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), whose district includes Buffalo and who has been pushing the FAA to implement the new rules. “Finally, guidance has been provided by the FAA that will help assure the American public that when they step into a plane, their pilot is well-rested. … While I’m pleased we have a final rule on pilot fatigue, we know from the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board, that it was not the only factor contributing to the tragic crash in Clarence two years ago. There must be more done to address pilot training, especially on techniques as basic as how to fly in ice when landing in Buffalo.”

For more of FRONTLINE’s reporting on the crash of Continental Flight 3407 — including the controversy over recently released emails suggesting executives at Colgan Air, which operated the flight, had concerns about the abilities of pilot Marvin Renslow — visit our website for Flying Cheap.

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