FAA Sends Part 135 Fatigue Rules to Back Burner

 - April 3, 2013, 1:20 AM

Part 135 flight and duty regulations are not yet on the front burner of aviation rulemaking, John Duncan, deputy director of FAA Flight Standards Services, told attendees at the Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) safety symposium last month. The agency has a full plate writing new regulations because of congressional mandates included in the “Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010.”

That document contained provisions calling for new rulemaking on pilot training and fatigue. While the rule was aimed primarily at Part 121 airlines, former FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt warned Part 135 operators at the time that new fatigue rules “could well be coming to your neighborhood soon.” He said it would look “very similar to, if not exactly like, the [Part 121] final rule”

Some in the unscheduled air charter industry feared this could mean that the FAA would discard work already done by an industry-FAA Part 125/135 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) over a span of many years. But Duncan assured the attendees that when the FAA addresses the issue for Part 135, it will take the ARC’s work into account. “[The] ARC has done a lot of work on that,” he acknowledged.

Dennis Keith, chairman of the ACSF and president of Jet Solutions, told Duncan that the ARC recommendations represent a consensus, and if the new rulemaking reflects those recommendations it will receive wide support.

Among the FAA’s current workload is new rulemaking on air ambulance services, use of night vision goggles and creation of safety management systems. Duncan said the agency has the capacity to undertake about 40 rulemaking projects at one time, and the pipeline is already full. With more mandates coming from Congress and the FAA facing further cutbacks because of sequestration, he expects it to remain clogged for some time.


Rest and duty regulations for on-demand Part 135 operations are a joke, and the FAA appears to not have the balls or the interest to confront the issue head-on.

Many, if not most, Part 135 jet operators require their pilots to be on-call 24/7 and ready to come to the airport at any time, day or night. Once your phone rings, the previous 10 hours you were not on duty are considered to be your "rest" and you are now legal to work a full 14 hour duty period.

Our operation, for instance, can get a pop-up charter flight at 9:00PM. Doesn't matter that I have been up since 8:00 that morning - I am now forced to fly overnight and am often landing back at home base, having been awake for over 24 hours. This makes for tired, dangerous pilots and I am confident that this is not what the FAA, NATA, ACSF, or any other alphabet soup group wants pilots to be doing.

The FAA has come out with chief counsel letters of opinion stating that this kind of operation is illegal, and that rest has to be "prospective." When this information is brought to the attention of our management, they say that they can't comply with that kind of policy because it would put us at a "competitive disadvantage" and some other operator would still do the trip. The FAA FSDOs could care less about this - they don't have the funds or manpower to honestly police Part 135 operators, and they're not going to care about your tired pilots until you have an accident. Oh, yeah, and our operation is Wyvern audited and ARG/US Gold. That goes to show you the value of these "feel good" audits.

Some operators do the right thing and put their pilots on an actual schedule. Yet the 135 industry is peculiar in that there is a high demand for "pop up" trips at all hours of the day or night (whether they are aeromedical, broken aircraft, last minute customer request, etc.) I find it difficult to believe the industry can craft a rule that will honestly, seriously provide for well-rested pilots yet preserve the ability to respond to short-notice trips.

FAR 135 on-demand flying requires highly skilled, self motivated and dedicated professionals who can think and work for themselves. Yes, pop-ups are a fact of life, hence the concept "on-demand." To meet this reality, responsible/professional crew members will maintain a strong physical conditioning program, manage their diet (balance) and sleep cycles (20 min power naps) to enhance their ability to work the backside of the clock should it be necessary. Those who can't, or won't take the responsibility for their own life style have no business flying FAR 135 on-demand and should get a job in the airlines. I know in my company many crew members with kids use a sitter service every day the wife works to allow them to exercise and/or rest during the day just incase they get a call to fly that night; responsible and professional airmanship.

Bill you are clearly a management guy that has learned how to say "its legal".

Many years ago I flew and operated 135 non-scheduled and scheduled 135 later I flew for a now out of business operator under 121 supplemental.

All these have one thing in common, the complete lack of respect for those flying these unreasonable schedules.

Although every carrier states safety is first, the bottom line of the 10K is the first priority.

It is unfortunately the FAA servers two masters, one of safety and one of air commerce, this duality is in direct conflict of any other operation outside the government. Until the FAA begins to full fill its obligation to enforce safety on the airlines and air operators, people will continue to loose their life due directly to the FAA's duality.

Management also needs to take a look in the mirror; the old saying "its legal" is nothing more than a over used broken crutch. Management should never forget because it's legal does not make it safe or reasonable.

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