FAA rest proposals garner pilot support

 - June 30, 2009, 9:59 AM

The FAA’s proposed guidelines addressing crew fatigue on ultra-long-range flights by “flag carriers” (OpSpec A332) contain “substantive improvements” that the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA) supports, but the trade association retains its “technical objection” to the crew complements referred to in the draft OpSpec.

CAPA is opposing a lawsuit filed in federal court in late December by American, Continental, Atlas Air, Evergreen International, JetBlue, United and US Airways concerning OpSpec A332. Capt. Paul Onorato, CAPA’s president, said that while it believes a number of elements in the proposed guidelines embrace scientifically based and widely accepted views on effective fatigue risk management, the association opposes the lawsuit as filed.

Last month, the CAPA safety council was in the process of drafting a formal response to the lawsuit and expected to have it ready by the end of the month.

The seven airlines say their lawsuit was prompted by the FAA’s breaking its own rules when it set new standards for pilot rest times last October without input from the carriers. In the action, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, they argue they should have had a chance to comment on new rules that would impose a financial burden on them.

“The FAA has neither demonstrated how the rule will advance safety, considered the potential that the rule may actually diminish safety, nor justified the significant costs of the rule against any purported benefit,” the carriers said.

But the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents 11,500 American Airlines pilots, calls the lawsuit opposing the enhanced crew rest rules “unconscionable.” The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) also disagrees with the suit.

“The industry collaboration and modern science behind this new guideline stand as a model for how we need to overhaul all of the flight- and duty-time regulations currently on the books,” said Capt. John Prater, ALPA’s president. “It is proof positive that, together, the airlines, labor and government can create innovative approaches to safely operating today’s ultra-long-haul flights.”

Having no previous rules for flights lasting more than 16 hours, ALPA said, the FAA took advantage of the opportunity to start from scratch. According to the pilots’ union, the agency initiated a dialogue with airlines, pilots and flight attendants.

“The discussion has incorporated significantly evolved fatigue science methodology, which incl-udes the elements of human fatigue and performance effectiveness with the highest levels of accu- racy and resolution,” ALPA said.

Currently, Continental, Delta, FedEx and United operate flights that come in at–or flirt with–the 16-hour mark, and the FAA will impose OpSpec A332 on a city-pair by city-pair basis. Furthermore, the agency will separately examine each individual city-pair proposal.

The new rule applies to all scheduled flights to and from a specific city-pair (from New York City to Mumbai, for example) if 10 percent of the scheduled flights exceed 16 hours in any 90-day period. There may be minor variations from the basic route on a city-pair by city-pair basis, but the airline must document the need for any exception.

OpSpec A332 requires these 16-hour flights to have a minimum of four qualified pilots on board at all times. These crew-members must follow a scheduled preflight rest period of 24 hours and have a 48-hour layover rest–or at minimum two nights rest–based on the pilot’s home-base time, with a limited exception.

Pilots must have in-flight rest breaks, and the guideline further establishes standards for onboard and layover rest facilities. There is also a minimum postflight rest of twice the number of hours the pilot has flown to reach the destination.

“ALPA’s work with the FAA and other industry stakeholders to deliver this relief for our pilots who fly long-haul routes is just the beginning,” Prater said. “We plan to keep the pressure on the FAA to leverage this type of approach and science to modernize the flight- and duty-time rules for all types of flying.”

Capa’s Broad Reach

CAPA is a trade association composed of more than 23,000 professional pilots. Its purpose is to address safety, security, legislative and regulatory issues affecting the professional flight-deck crew-member on matters of common interest to the individual member unions.

The five members of CAPA are the Allied Pilots Association (American), Independent Pilots Association (UPS), National Pi-lots Association (AirTran), Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) and the Teamsters Local 1224 (ABX Air). ALPA is the largest airline pilot union in the world and represents more than 52,000 pilots at 35 U.S. and Canadian airlines.

“ALPA strongly supports both the FAA’s new ultra-long-range crew rest requirements and the innovative approach used to develop them,” said ALPA’s Prater. “When you consider that the flight- and duty-time limits in use today were created more than 60 years ago, ultra-long-range flights become new territory for our industry. This new territory, which includes modern science, flight schedules, aircraft equipment, human physiology research and travel distances, requires an innovative approach to ensuring safety.”

Added Flight Safety Foundation president William Voss, “The aviation business has pretty much outgrown the arbitrary flight-time limits of the past [and] it is time to take a more thoughtful approach that uses what we know about fatigue to make the system better for everybody.”