FAA proposes new duty-time and rest rules

 - September 28, 2010, 11:41 AM

The FAA last month proposed new pilot duty-time limitations and rest requirements for Part 121 carriers that stand to alter scheduling practices and hiring needs profoundly across the U.S. airline industry. Unveiled on September 10 at DOT headquarters by FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, the NPRM includes the imposition of a nine-hour rest period before duty, as opposed to today’s eight-hour minimum, and a mandate calling for 30 consecutive hours of off-duty time every week, which translates into a 25-percent increase over today’s requirement. 

Other features include a single rule for domestic, international and unscheduled flights, a new approach to measuring a rest period that guarantees an opportunity for eight hours of sleep and varied requirements based on time of day, number of scheduled segments, flight types, time zones and the likelihood that a pilot can sleep under different circumstances. The proposal includes provisions related to a pilot’s commute, including consideration of commute time when determining rest periods, and consideration of flight and duty time in relation to a pilot’s “home base.”

The new rules also call for 28-day limits on duty time of any kind and give a pilot the right to decline a flying assignment–without penalty–if he or she feels fatigued. In fact, the proposal clearly places responsibility for fatigue mitigation on both the airline and the pilot.

The NPRM calls for a limitation on the daily flight duty period to 13 hours, which could slide to nine hours at night. Current rules allow for a 16-hour duty period between rest periods.

The proposed rule defines “flight duty” as the period of time when a pilot reports for duty with the intention of flying an aircraft, operating a simulator or operating a flight-training device. A pilot’s entire duty period can include both “flight duty” and other tasks that do not involve flight time, such as record keeping and ground training.

Current rules limit pilots flying domestically to 30 hours of flight time during any seven consecutive days. They limit those flying international operations to 32 hours over the same time period, while no limit exists for supplemental operations. The proposal provides pilots with at least 30 consecutive hours per week free from all duty, compared with the current 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the proposed rule would institute a flight time limit of 100 hours in any 28 days. Current rules set a limit of 100 hours for every 30 days.
Finally, current regulations specify a limit of 1,000 flight hours in any calendar year for domestic flights. The proposed rules would limit all types of operation to 1,000 hours per 365 days.

LaHood and Babbitt identified pilot fatigue as a top priority during the so-called Airline Safety Call to Action following the crash of Colgan Air 3407 in February 2009. Babbitt then launched an aggressive effort to collect the latest research on fatigue to create a new pilot flight, duty and rest proposal.

The proposed rule does not apply to Part 135 operators, but the FAA said it “might” address fatigue for Part 135 operators in the future. And that might come sooner rather than later.Babbitt explained that the Part 121 NPRM serves as notice to unscheduled charter operators that “this could well be coming to your neighborhood soon.”

The NPRM states that Part 135 operations are similar to those conducted under Part 121 and the Part 135 operators should expect to see an NPRM addressing their operations that will look “very similar to, if not exactly like, the final rule the agency anticipates issuing as part of this rulemaking initiative.”

Despite the proposed rule’s likely cost implications, the Regional Airline Association, for one, responded positively.

“RAA and its member airlines…support the approach that would allow pilots more rest and give airlines the flexibility to integrate fatigue science into their scheduling practices,” said the association.

The proposal complies with provisions in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, which directs the FAA to issue a regulation no later than Aug. 1, 2011, to specify limitations on the hours of pilot flight and duty time to address problems relating to pilot fatigue.

The NPRM’s 60-day public comment period closes on November 13.