With the comment period on a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on flight-, duty- and rest-time requirements for Part 121 flight crews closing on November 15, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) expressed concern that the FAA plans eventually to expand the regulations to encompass Part 135 on-demand operations.
“The current proposal for Part 121 largely, and logically, deals with the scheduling of flight crews for operations and routes that are known far in advance,” NATA said. “The application of a scheduled pilot regime in a substantially ad hoc system, such as Part 135, is a great concern to the industry,” said the association.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has said on several occasions that new flight, duty and rest requirements will be imposed on Part 135 on-demand charter operations. When Babbitt and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the new proposals in September, Babbitt said the FAA “might” address fatigue for Part 135 operators in the future, and that might come sooner rather than later.
He added that the Part 121 NPRM serves as notice to unscheduled charter operators that “this could well be coming to your neighborhood soon.” Since then, he has indicated that will not happen until a final rule is issued for Part 121. But the agency said in its preamble for the Part 121 NPRM that it intends to issue regulations for Part 135 certificate holders that are “very similar to, if not exactly like, the final rule” for Part 121.
NATA’s comments, among more than 1,000 received by the FAA, noted that economic effects and potential for business closure from cumbersome and costly proposals is far more likely for Part 135 operators than it is for Part 121 operators because Part 135 certificate holders are nearly all small businesses.
The Part 121 NPRM includes provisions to limit pilot duty time and increase rest periods. The new limitations would apply to all flights, including positioning/ferry flights, that are operated by the certificate holder even if the flights are conducted under Part 91.
Joining NATA in filing last-day comments was the Regional Airline Association (RAA), whose submission supported the FAA’s aim to combat crew fatigue, while recommending science-based revisions that will ensure airline flight crews are rested and safe. “Fatigue avoidance is a joint responsibility of airline management and individual pilots, and we applaud the FAA’s efforts to revise the current outdated rules and push the development of new rules based on new research into fatigue and today’s real-world airline environment,” said RAA president Roger Cohen. He noted that the RAA is sponsoring an independent fatigue study, currently under way by Washington State University’s world-renowned Sleep and Performance Center, which should provide ground-breaking science focused on multi-segment airline operations. The RAA represents 31 member airlines.
But the Air Transport Association (ATA), whose 19 airline members and their affiliates transport more than 90 percent of all U.S. airline passenger and cargo traffic, is calling for significant revisions to the existing proposal. “We are very concerned that significant aspects of the proposed rule are not science-based,” said president and CEO James May.
He added that although ATA supports the core measures, the rule, if implemented as written, “would create onerous and duplicative regulations, which in major respects do not mitigate fatigue or increase safety. These regulations would, however, add significant operational and scheduling complexity that will adversely affect our crews and customers.”
The FAA is amending its existing regulations to recognize the growing similarities between the types of operation and the universality of factors that lead to fatigue in most individuals. If adopted, the new requirements would eliminate the current distinctions between domestic, flag and supplemental operations. The proposal provides different requirements based on the time of day, whether an individual is acclimated to a new time zone, and the likelihood of being able to sleep under different circumstances.
NATA noted that it and other industry stakeholders invested considerable effort to provide a comprehensive flight, duty and rest rulemaking proposal during the Part 125/135 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) that the FAA convened several years ago. The FAA has not provided any feedback on that proposal or indicated in which way those recommendations, if adopted, would be ineffective in combating fatigue, it said.
“The association will continue to advocate for the FAA to give proper weight to the ARC proposal if rulemaking is initiated and work to ensure the FAA gives appropriate consideration to the implications of mandates on the continued viability of the industry,” NATA concluded.