Friday, September 17, 2010

FAA Proposal Targets Pilot Fatigue

In February 2009, the national discussion shifted when a red-eye flight suddenly came to a terrifying end. A regional commuter plane dropped from the sky onto a suburban Buffalo subdivision, claiming the lives of 50 people.

A year-long investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed startled, confused pilots badly mishandled a cockpit warning and lost control of the plane. Neither had slept much before their shift.

Crash site of Colgan Air Flight 3407, (February 2009)

Transportation officials say one pilot napped in the airport while the other took a cross-country overnight flight in the hours before the take-off of Colgan Air Flight 3407.

Nearly two years after the nightmare crash, federal regulators are addressing dangerous pilot fatigue. The FAA is proposing new regulations that would greatly expand on current pilot fatigue rules.

The minimum rest period between flights would increase by an hour to nine hours, with at least eight designated hours for the pilot to sleep. Minimum consecutive hours off would increase by 25 percent, or 30 hours per week.

The proposal would also consolidate rest requirements, which differ for domestic, international and charter flights. Airlines would also have to take into consideration the time of day, time zone and whether the pilots have the ability to fall asleep.

The sweeping reforms may hit a roadblock however – two major pilots unions strongly oppose the plan. Representatives for the unions claim the regulations would have a negative impact on safety. Charter airlines also object to the changes.

Fifteen years ago the pilots and unions were able to block a similar proposal. Since that time, the National Transportation Safety Board reports more than 250 people have died in plane crashes linked to pilot fatigue.

Photo Courtesy Chuck Anderson

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