Lawmakers Seek Flight/Duty Changes

 - May 9, 2008, 7:09 AM

In a letter to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, 31 members of Congress have urged the agency to take immediate action to update pilot flight- and duty-time regulations.

“The current pilot flight- and duty-time regulations have been in effect since 1985,” said Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-Ill.), the ranking minority member on the House aviation subcommittee. “The aviation industry has grown by leaps and bounds since then. In addition, scientific research has better quantified the effects of fatigue since that time. The pilot flight- and duty-time regulations are outdated and need to be updated immediately.”

The lawmakers reminded Garvey that the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in December 1995 that contained a comprehensive revision of the pilot flight- and duty-time regulations.

“We are concerned that, five-and-a-half years after the NPRM was issued, new regulations updating pilot flight- and duty-time rules are not even close to being in place,” the legislators wrote. “We are also disappointed that the FAA did not keep its assurances to Congress that the agency would act upon updated pilot flight- and duty-time regulations by early 2000, as Margaret Gilligan [FAA deputy associate administrator for regulation and certification] testified on Aug. 3, 1999, before the House subcommittee on aviation.”

According to the House members, since the release of the 1995 NPRM, pilot and flight-crew fatigue has been identified as a contributing factor in several aviation accidents and incidents. “In addition, in today’s increasingly congested air-traffic environment, the stress on pilots is even greater and the danger of pilot fatigue is more worrisome,” they said.

The House members insisted that further delay is “unacceptable,” and called for “immediate action” to update pilot flight- and duty-time regulations. They told Garvey that “any new regulations must contain a maximum duty-day limitation, irrespective of any delays due to maintenance, weather or ATC.”

The lawmakers asserted that prompt action by Garvey’s administration to update pilot flight- and duty-time regulations, coupled with “strict” enforcement, will ensure the safety of the aviation industry. “We would like to know where the FAA is in the process of issuing updated regulations and when the public can realistically expect new pilot flight- and duty-time regulations to be in effect,” they said.   

Lipinski added, “I sincerely hope that the letter that my colleagues and I sent to the FAA today [August 3] will spur the agency into action.” Among the other signers was Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the ranking minority member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure who arguably is the most knowledgeable lawmaker on aviation issues.