The FAA gets it right — almost

New rules to combat pilot fatigue aren't perfect, but they address the need for longer rest periods between flights

Topics: Ask the Pilot,

Late last month, after interminable wrangling, the FAA released its new flight and duty time rules for pilots. Designed to combat on-the-job fatigue, the rules take effect in two years. Regulators had been dragging their feet forever on this issue, but finally got moving on the heels of several incidents, most notably the Colgan Air (Continental Connection) disaster outside Buffalo in 2009. Crew fatigue may not have played a direct role in that crash (such things, of course, can be impossible to quantify), but, if nothing else, people, and the media, began discussing it at large. Which, for better or worse, is often what it takes before things get done.

For more on pilot fatigue overall, see my prior column, here. As for the new rules specifically, they are perhaps more convoluted than they need to be. The document outlining the changes is more than 200 pages long. But that’s the FAA for you, and we probably should have expected this as part of a package that would be acceptable to pilots, regulators and the airline industry together. It was going to be a compromise.

One sore point is the exclusion of cargo carriers, which are allowed to retain the existing rules. These companies argued that adopting the tighter regulations would be unduly cumbersome and expensive. Industry advocates point out that most freight carriers already have adequate in-house rules and policies at least as accommodating as those recommended by the FAA. This is hardly universal, however, and in my opinion the exemption is a mistake.

I also wonder if the two-year waiting period isn’t a bit excessive. The idea is to allow airlines to assess their staffing needs and hire/train additional pilots accordingly. This takes time. Two full years, though?

But on the whole I’m impressed.

Perhaps the most important change is the one stipulating that pilots must now receive a minimum 10-hour rest period between assignments (i.e., workdays), with an opportunity for at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Until now, not only have rest periods been reduceable to as few as eight hours, the very definition of “rest” itself has failed to account for things like travel time to and from hotels, the need for meals, and so on. A pilot is considered off-duty and resting shortly after his final flight of the day shuts down at the gate (30 minutes after block-in, typically). With paperwork and other duties to attend to, the rest clock is often ticking while he is still at the airport — sometimes still on the plane. And it ceases ticking not when he checks out of the room the next morning, but when he arrives again at the airport for sign-in. For instance, a crew signs off in Chicago at 9 p.m. and is scheduled to sign on again at 6 a.m. On paper that constitutes a nine-hour rest period. However, once you start subtracting the time spent waiting for the hotel van, driving to and from the airport, scrounging for food and so on, you’re left with six or seven hours actually spent at the hotel, and perhaps only four or five hours sleeping.

Finally this will change. Rest will be rest.

And it’s regional airline pilots who stand to benefit most. As discussed in that earlier column of mine, I’ve always felt that the fatigue conversation has been focused too intensely on long-haul as opposed to short-haul flying. Maybe that sounds counterintuitive, but it’s the regional pilots who tend to fly the most punishing schedules, operating multiple legs in and out of busy airports, often in the worst weather, with short layovers at dodgy motels. In-house policies at most of the majors already include provisions granting crews at least eight hours of true rest, but now it becomes the law and policy at all commercial passenger carriers. This provision isn’t perfect, and was long overdue, but nonetheless it’s one of the smartest things the FAA has ever done.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>