FAA Battles Pilot Fatigue with New Rules

‘Science-based’ rules require greater crew rest.

Airline Crew Rest Rules
Airline Crew Rest Rules

Nearly three years after the crash of a Colgan Air regional airliner thrust the issue of pilot fatigue into the public consciousness, the FAA has released new regulations intended to combat the problem.

Under the revised rules, a variety of new factors will influence flight and duty limitations, such as duty start time and the number of time zones crossed during a duty period. Among the new provisions is one mandating that pilots are given 10 hours of rest between duty periods, instead of the 8 hours now required. Pilots will also be allotted 30 consecutive hours of duty-free time on a weekly basis, a 25 percent jump from prior policy.

The rules come after years of debate over FAA crew rest requirements, a debate intensified in February 2009 by the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407, which killed 50 people in Buffalo, New York. The NTSB noted that fatigue was likely a factor, and many family members of the victims have since become vocal advocates for more stringent crew rest requirements.

The new rules issued by the FAA on Wednesday will only apply to airlines, however, not cargo carriers, a move that has angered a number of pilot unions and safety advocate groups. The FAA cited costs as the precipitating factor, saying the financial burden would not justify the benefits for such operators. For the airline industry alone, the FAA estimates the new regulations will cost almost $297 million to implement.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman
issued a statement on Wednesday in which she praised the "long-awaited science-based rule," but also said that the Board was "extremely disappointed" that the rule only applies to Part 121 carriers.

The FAA's new rules will go into effect in two years and can be viewed in their entirety here.