FAA Misses Deadline for Implementing Pilot Fatigue and Training Rules

09 Jun 2009, Washington DC, USA --- A Comair Canadair Regional Jet during final approach into DCA airport (Washington National /Ronald Reagan Airport).

09 Jun 2009, Washington DC, USA --- A Comair Canadair Regional Jet during final approach into DCA airport (Washington National /Ronald Reagan Airport).

August 18, 2011

Just over a year ago, President Obama signed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 into law. Key components, which were supposed to be implemented by Aug. 1, include:

+ Requiring all airline pilots to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which requires a minimum of 1,500 flight hours; the previous requirement was 250 flight hours.

+ Directing the FAA to update and implement new pilot flight and duty time rules that are based on scientific research in the field of fatigue.

+ Requiring the FAA to ensure that pilots are trained on how to recover from stalls and upsets, and that airlines provide remedial training to pilots who need it.

The Associated Press suggests the delay is due in part to pressure from the cargo and charter airline industries.

The bill was prompted by the 2009 crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Buffalo, which killed all 49 people on board and one on the ground. The NTSB determined that the cause of the Buffalo crash was pilot error, experience and fatigue being key factors. Flight 3407’s captain, Marvin Renslow, was hired by Colgan Air — the code-share airline contracted out by Continental to run regional flights — with only 618 hours of flying time. That’s less than half the time required by most major airlines. He also failed five performance tests, known as “check rides” — some of which Colgan had failed to discover. The first officer, Rebecca Shaw, 24, joined Colgan in January 2008. She made less than $16,000 in her first year at Colgan and spent the night before the crash commuting from her home in Seattle.

Our 2010 investigation into the Buffalo crash and regional airlines found that both fatigue and pressure to “move the rig” were common at Colgan: pilots sometimes slept in what are crudely called “crash pads,” and two former Colgan pilots told us that “pilot pushing” — stretching the bounds of operational safety — is all too common. “If we didn’t move those airplanes, they didn’t make any money,” said Corey Heiser. “For every day the airplane sat on the ground, or for every hour it sat on the ground, it cost them money.” Hundreds of pilots wrote us before and after the broadcast to share their stories about these pressures.

The FAA recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that it’s “‘working aggressively’ to complete a pilot fatigue rule.” To many that’s little consolation. Sen. Charles Schumer [D-N.Y.] penned a letter to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt pushing for a quick implementation, and the president of the Air Line Pilots Association wrote to President Obama [PDF], expressing the union’s “immense disappointment” with the delay, calling for “One Level of Safety” for all pilots and passengers.

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

A Rare Look Inside Police Training in Utah
How might police training impact whom, when and why officers shoot? Watch an excerpt from the new FRONTLINE/Salt Lake Tribune documentary “Shots Fired.”
November 23, 2021
Is the Fear Factor Overblown in Police Shootings?
Utah’s police training has been questioned for focusing on worst-case scenarios.
November 22, 2021
Kids and Climate Change: Who's Learning What — or Not — and Why?
As COP26 wraps, the new book 'Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America' and past stories from former FRONTLINE reporter Katie Worth offer more context.
November 12, 2021
No Taper Tantrum & Other Recent Federal Reserve News, Explained
To make sense of it all, here’s a closer look at news that has broken since the FRONTLINE documentary "The Power of the Fed" first aired in July 2021 and what it means.
November 10, 2021