Will the FAA’s New Fatigue Rules Do Enough for Pilots?

Some experts argue that despite the regulations, the skies are still not as safe as they could be.

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Taking into account recent scientific research, the Federal Aviation Administration announced new rules on Dec. 21 that are aimed at reducing fatigue among commercial airline pilots.

Airlines must now consider several factors when scheduling, including pilots’ duty periods, the number of time zones crossed and the time at which pilots start their first flight. Pilots must now have a 10-hour rest period before reporting for duty, a two-hour increase over previous regulations. The FAA has also increased the number of consecutive free hours pilots must have per week to 30 hours. And, added acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta, “If a pilot reports that he or she is fatigued, then the airline must remove the pilot from duty,” says acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta.

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But the problem, some say, is that pilots might fear being reprimanded for not getting sufficient rest. As House Transportation Committee member John Mica noted, “Pilots must take personal responsibility for coming to work rested and fit for duty. The government cannot put a chocolate on every one of their pillows and tuck them in at night.” While the new rules ensure that pilots aren’t forced to work too much, they also place a bigger onus on pilots to make sure they aren’t falling asleep on the job.

Another issue that critics say hasn’t been addressed with the update, is that the rules aren’t stringent enough to help commuting pilots. According to a July report by the National Research Council, 20% of the nation’s airline pilots live more than 750 miles from their work stations and have to travel great distances and bunk in makeshift beds before their shifts, leaving them especially vulnerable to fatigue. ABC News airline consultant John Nance, a former pilot himself, called the changes “abysmal.”

But it doesn’t look like much will be done to address these fears, considering that the FAA called it a “Final Rule on Pilot Fatigue.” Perhaps energy would be best spent now focusing on air-traffic controller fatigue, considering the rash of incidents this year in which pilots were found to be asleep on the job.

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