September 13, 2010
The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have made what they call a "landmark proposal" to fight fatigue among commercial pilots by setting new flight time and rest requirements based on fatigue science.

"This proposal is a significant enhancement for aviation safety," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Both pilots and passengers will benefit from these proposed rules that will continue to ensure the safety of our nation's air transportation system."

Last year, LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt identified the issue of pilot fatigue as a top priority during the Airline Safety Call to Action following the crash of Colgan Air 3407 in February 2009. Babbitt launched an aggressive effort to take advantage of the latest research on fatigue to create a new pilot flight, duty and rest proposal.

The proposal is compatible 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 August 1, 2011, to specify limitations on the hours of pilot flight and duty time to address problems relating to pilot fatigue.

"I know firsthand that fighting fatigue is a serious issue, and it is the joint responsibility of both the airline and the pilot," said Babbitt. "After years of debate, the aviation community is moving forward to give pilots the tools they need to manage fatigue and fly safely."

Uniform requirements

Currently there are different rest requirements for domestic, international and unscheduled flights. The proposed rule would eliminate these distinctions. The proposal also sets different requirements for pilots based on the time of day and number of scheduled segments, as well as time zones, type of flights, and likelihood that a pilot is able to sleep under different circumstances.

The proposal 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.

The FAA proposes to set a nine-hour minimum opportunity for rest prior to the duty period, a one-hour increase over the current rules. The proposed rule would establish a new method for measuring a pilot's rest period, so that the pilot can have the chance to receive at least eight hours of sleep during that rest period.

Cumulative fatigue would be addressed by placing weekly and 28-day limits on the amount of time a pilot may be assigned any type of duty. Additionally, 28-day and annual limits would be placed on flight time. Pilots would have to be given at least 30 consecutive hours free from duty on a weekly basis, a 25 percent increase over the current rules.

Congress recently mandated that all air carriers have a Fatigue Risk Management Plan (FRMP). Each carrier will be able to develop its own set of policies and procedures to reduce the risks of pilot fatigue and improve alertness. The FAA has prepared guidance material to help the airlines develop their FRMP.