The Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) helping the FAA revise the Part 125/135 rulebook has essentially completed its work, but it is continuing to fine-tune some wording before it turns its recommendations over to the FAA for review before the agency issues a notice of proposed rulemaking.
“We haven’t yet received the report from the committee,” said Kathy Perfetti, FAA national resource specialist for Part 135 and fractional ownership, “and I can’t give you anything on whether it will be accepted or not.”
The ARC has been meeting for more than two years on revisions to the Federal Air Regulations for Part 135 operations, prompted primarily by changes in the industry since Part 135 was written in the mid-1960s.
The ARC tackled 200 issues and in the process made related changes to Part 125 and Part 91. One of the more complicated issues was crewmember flight, duty and rest time.
“We’ve had a couple of rulemaking efforts in the past to revise the flight and duty regulations,” Perfetti said. “There are a large number of interpretations on the books for both 121 and 135. The regulations as they are written today have a lot of similarities.”
But the previous efforts toward revising the flight and duty regulations have focused primarily on Part 121. “In this effort, we put the emphasis on Part 135 operations,” said Perfetti. “It tried to look at any of the issues purely from a 135 standpoint.”
Among the FAA’s concerns with Part 135 is the diversity of the Part 135 industry. While there are some scheduling options today, they are not clearly defined or understood. “I think one of the key things is the wide variety of operations in Part 135,” said Perfetti, “and the question is, does one rule cover all of these operations?”
The current rule provides options for on-demand, for regularly assigned crews, for hospital-based emergency medical service and for scheduled operations. Further complicating the equation are long- range flights, augmented crews, onboard rest facilities and flights with long wait times between legs (where flight time is not an issue but a long duty day is).
“Basically, the group looked at those options,” said Perfetti. “Much of what it recommends validates or clarifies these options, or makes recommendations to maybe change some of the hourly limits in there– whether it is for flight, duty or rest– and it incorporates interpretations and puts them into a format that is easier to use.”
NBAA director of regulatory affairs Doug Carr, chairman of the ARC flight/duty/rest subgroup, said the current regulations define only two types of pilot status–duty and rest. “Other than that, neither the pilot nor the operator really knows what the pilot’s status is when the pilot is done with rest but has not yet been given the next duty assignment,” he noted, adding that there have been dozens of interpretations from the FAA and enforcement actions against operators dealing with specific issues.
Regardless of whether the group recommended a change, a clarification or maintenance of the status quo, Perfetti said the bottom line was whether the crewmember was rested. Debate included methodologies, scheduling and collateral issues.
“One of the concerns was how do you confidently ensure that a pilot has had 10 hours of rest before a flight when you don’t know when the flight is going to occur,” Perfetti explained. “In the on-demand world, you may not know when you are going to get your next flight assignment. How can you look back and ensure that you’ve had 10 hours of rest in the preceding 24-hour period?”
The ARC subcommittee looked at different scheduling models to make recommendations to ensure that a pilot has been rested before the flight. “There was a previous interpretation on when an operator could call a pilot and interrupt a rest period that we looked at from a safety perspective,” she said, “and the group made recommendations about when an operator could contact a pilot.”
The group also looked at tail-end ferry, where airplanes are flown for the owners in addition to Part 135, such as repositioning. The question was how to determine whether the crew is rested for both the Part 135 flight and the Part 91 operation for the owner.
Other ideas that have been brought up, said Carr, are mid-duty breaks and eliminating the “never-ending duty day.” The mid-duty break is a new concept that gives a pilot rest time “behind the door” for at least four hours and the benefit of a duty-time–but not flight time–extension for that break.
According to Carr, because of some FAA wording, a delay at the beginning of a multi-segment assignment essentially can authorize a pilot to exceed his duty-day limit because the original flight assignment could have been completed within the allowable time. “We have eliminated that,” he said.
“We opened up the whole rule to see if there is an opportunity for improvement,” Perfetti said. “I think the recommendations that we’re getting, if they come forward the way they were finalized at our last meeting, is that they provide a very conservative approach to flight, duty and rest.” She added that the rules will ensure that the crews have the opportunity to be rested and provide some scheduling flexibility.
An Alternative to the ‘Lookback’ Assessment
The so-called “24-hour look back” in the current regulation requires that the operator look at the end of the flight assignment (when the flight is scheduled to be completed) and then look back 24 hours to see that the crew has had 10 hours’ rest. The difficulty in on-demand operations is how the rule is applied when the operator doesn’t know when it will receive that flight request.
“How can you realistically and practically ensure that the crewmember has rest?” she asked. “They may be off duty and not flying, but how can you determine that they have truly had the opportunity to sleep?”
Perfetti explained there are two scheduling systems available to ensure that crewmembers have had the opportunity to sleep when they are off-duty.
The crewmember availability method provides an opportunity for sleep during a “protected time” when crewmembers will not be contacted by the company for a trip. It also provides a contact time at the end of that period, and then provides a period of time when they will be available for work. “It’s a scheduling methodology to ensure that the crewmember has the opportunity for sleep at a predictable time,” she said.
The second is the tabular method, which puts the prescriptive limits for duty, flight and rest time into tables. The tables are broken down further by whether the flight is an on-demand operation, a regularly assigned operation such as EMS, or a scheduled operation. It is further broken down by whether it is a one-pilot, two-pilot or augmented crew.
“Instead of having all of these limits folded into a text that you have to sort through and try to find out what applies to you,” Perfetti explained, “you can go to the table that applies to your type of operation and whether or not you’re a one- or two-pilot crew, and all of the information on duty, flight and rest is presented in one table.” She added that everything is presented in a plain-language format.
The subcommittee also validated some of the hours that are on the table and assessed whether they are still appropriate and adequate or should be further defined. “We looked at all of the different scenarios and I can’t tell you across-the-board if they’ve all stayed the same,” she said. “Of course that is subject to further review. We validated and made amendments to the flight, duty and rest time requirements, depending on the type of operation and whether it was a single- or two-pilot crew.”
Carr said his group of 25, many of whom are Part 135 on-demand operators, essentially got rid of the 24-hour look-back as required under the regulations today and provided a more proactive tool for pilots and certificate holders to use.
“It has taken us a year to understand it,” he said. “So I don’t expect people to greet this immediately with a lot of joy and enthusiasm. It does take a lot of time and thought to understand it.”
But Carr suggested that operators will like it because it gives them more flexibility than they have now. He claimed that some operators on the subcommittee told him that implementing this new flight and rest program would not require them to add any other pilots but would require a better oversight and management of their existing pilots.
“What’s great about this is that the proposal is new, and if enacted, it’s going to get rid of all of these horrible interpretations that have done nothing but muddy the water for the past 20 years,” said Carr. “With this group, we had the right people in the room, we had the right experts in the room and at the end of the day, we were able to produce a product that is specific to Part 135 and really works for this community.”