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Sullenberger: Proposed Fatigue Rules are Step Backward in Key Area

Captain Chesley Sullenberger

September 23, 2010 —  In winter 2009, two airline accidents with vastly different outcomes thrust into the spotlight several issues that acutely affect the airline industry but have ramifications for all of aviation. Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sullenberger also is Co-Chairman with Jeff Skiles of the EAA Young Eagles program), who was already a noted aviation safety consultant before he and Jeff Skiles landed on the Hudson River, is speaking out about the FAA-proposed rules to fight fatigue in the professional pilot ranks. Sullenberger contends some of the provisions seem contrary to what has been learned about fatigue in the past 30 years. He also notes that pilot professionalism is not just for flyers who collect a paycheck.

Following our interview last week with Jeff Skiles on the issue of fatigue, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who has participated in several notable safety initiatives within the industry during his career, also commented to EAA about the proposed FAA rules and the issue of fatigue through this statement:

The Flight Time/Duty Time rules have not been updated for decades. The existing rules are out of date and need to be updated for at least two important reasons:

1. The way we fly has changed in that time (more legs per day in short-haul flying) and we are now flying ultra-long-haul flights.

2. Since the existing rules were written, many more scientific studies have been done showing us how to better address these problems.

Fatigue is an issue that affects every kind of flying and everyone who either serves as a pilot or crewmember or rides as a passenger.

In this new FAA Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), some aspects of the problem have been well addressed, but in at least one major area, these proposed rules not only fall far short of what is needed, they actually take a giant step backwards. And that is because the FAA proposes to INCREASE by 25 percent the number of hours airline pilots are scheduled to fly per day (with a two-pilot crew) from 8 to 10!

Let me be clear: There is NO science that shows that flying more hours per day will cause less fatigue. And, unbelievably, the FAA proposal sets NO limit on the amount of flying time an augmented crew (with a third pilot) can be scheduled to fly. And it is apparent that these parts of the proposed rule are included only for economic reasons, and they fly in the face of all that we have learned in the last 30 years about how we should be solving the fatigue problem.

As an industry, we owe it to our passengers to do for them the very best that we know how to do, and to have the integrity and courage to reject the merely expedient and the barely adequate as being, quite frankly, not good enough.

That’s what it means to be a professional, whether one is flying for fun or for a living.


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