FAA Won’t Meet Its Own Deadline for New Fatigue Rules

 - December 21, 2009, 6:18 AM

As the anniversary of the Feb. 12, 2009 crash near Buffalo, N.Y., of a Bombardier Q400 regional airliner operated by Colgan Air fast approaches, the U.S. government still hasn’t issued proposed new rules governing fatigue for Part 121 pilots. In a December 1 hearing of the Senate aviation subcommittee, FAA associate administrator for aviation safety Margaret Gilligan admitted that new rules remain a work in progress despite a near consensus by the aviation rulemaking committee (ARC).

The FAA launched the ARC in June to study fatigue and risk management with the intention of recommending flight- and duty-time limitations and rest requirements by the end of the year. Gilligan promised that the FAA would have completed a proposal by January 1. However, before the final product enters the public domain as a notice of proposed rulemaking it must win the approval of the Department of Transportation and White House Office of Management and Budget. In the past, both agencies have missed federally mandated deadlines for giving the green light on new regulations, often exceeding 90 days each.

“We are all frustrated,” Gilligan said. “It has taken longer than any of us wanted or expected.” As recently as December 10, the Senate aviation subcommittee pressured Babbitt to accelerate the new pilot fatigue rules. He told the lawmakers that completing the rewrite stands as one of his top priorities and that it would happen in 2010.

Federal investigators have raised the issue of fatigue and pilot training during their probe into the February crash of the Bombardier Q400 operated by Colgan Air as Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo. The NTSB said the two pilots violated the sterile-cockpit rule and reacted improperly to the stall that led to the accident.