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FAA Publishes New Pilot Rest Requirements

Fatigue avoidance rules only apply to scheduled passenger operations

December 21, 2011 – After many years of study, the FAA has published new required rest rules for pilots flying in scheduled passenger operations. Congress has been pressuring the FAA to act since a turboprop regional airliner crashed at Buffalo nearly three years ago and pilot fatigue became an issue in the accident investigation.

The new rules limit pilot duty time to nine or as many as 14 hours, depending on several factors that can add to fatigue. Duty will be restricted depending on what time of day the flight originates. Actual flight time, including all time when the airplane is moving under its own power, will be limited to eight or nine hours. The required rest period between duty days is extended to 10 hours, and pilots must be assured they have the opportunity for at least an eight-hour period of uninterrupted sleep.

One of the most fundamental changes in the new rule is that pilots must sign a statement before each duty period attesting that they are not fatigued and are “fit” and ready to fly. If a pilot cannot sign the statement, the airline must provide a replacement pilot. The FAA believes that the new flight and duty time scheduling, and the pilot’s “fit-to-fly” statement, will share the responsibility for fatigue avoidance between the airline and pilots.

The FAA says it applied research into fatigue factors to formulate the new standards. One of the major considerations is the time of day a pilot goes on duty. For example, if the duty day starts between midnight and 4 in the morning for the pilot’s “acclimated” time, the duty limit is nine hours because studies show fatigue risks are greater at that time. But if the duty day begins at seven in the morning, the duty day can stretch out to 14 hours.

Another factor in determining fatigue risks is the number of flight segments during the duty day, and time zones crossed. The previous rule did not consider the circadian issues of late night and very early morning flights and treated all duty periods the same.

There are also new cumulative flight hour limits for weekly, monthly, and annual maximums. And a pilot must have at least 30 uninterrupted hours off during any weekly duty period.

The FAA determined that the new rules could not be fully applied to scheduled cargo flights because of the “fly and wait” nature of many of those operations. The FAA does note, however, that many cargo carriers have created effective rest areas for pilots to use while airplanes are unloaded and loaded.

The FAA also gives the airlines the option to create their own unique fatigue risk management systems that suit the nature of their operation. Such a risk management system would need to be approved by the FAA, along with required recurrent training for pilots in fatigue management.

The new rules will not become fully effective for two years to allow commercial passenger airline operators time to transition. See the complete final rule here.

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