FAA to Propose New Fatigue Rules – Could Force Some Carriers to Hire Additional Pilots

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to propose changes to two of the most hotly contested issues involving cockpit fatigue, as part of a broader effort to revamp decades-old limits on how long commercial pilots can safely stay behind the controls according to The Wall Street Journal.


The proposed changes would affect ultralong-range routes flown by jumbo jets as well as short hops flown by the smallest turboprop aircraft.

Now, the agency is gearing up for an overhaul of regulations governing flight hours and length of workdays for all U.S. airline pilots. The FAA wants to replace the current one-size-fits-all rules on pilot workdays with a new regime that takes into consideration the latest scientific research on sleep.

Under these new parameters, pilots’ schedules would vary depending on the time of day, the number of takeoffs and the internal body clocks of crew members.

The FAA is likely to end what are, in effect, longstanding exemptions permitting pilots of some turboprop aircraft at Skywest Airlines and other regional carriers to fly as much as 20% more hours per month than the rest of the industry, according to representatives of regional carriers and pilots. Such a change, affecting planes carrying between 19 and 30 passengers, could force some carriers to hire additional pilots.

Agency officials have declined to comment on specifics, but FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has indicated that an industry-labor group appears “close to consensus” on recommending a spate of regulatory changes. The agency has said it would fast-track the proposals with the goal of issuing a final rule before the end of 2010.

Daily scheduled flight-hour limits are a maximum of eight hours across the board for all scheduled passenger carriers, regardless of whether they have different weekly, monthly or annual flight-time rules.