FAA Issues Final Rule on Pilot Fatigue

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January 3, 2012

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Michael Huerta announced a sweeping final rule that overhauls commercial passenger airline pilot scheduling to ensure pilots have a longer opportunity for rest before they enter the cockpit.

“This is a major safety achievement,” said Secretary LaHood. “We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue.”

 “Every pilot has a personal responsibility to arrive at work fit for duty. This new rule gives pilots enough time to get the rest they really need to safely get passengers to their destinations,” said FAA Acting Administrator Huerta.

The Department of Transportation identified the issue of pilot fatigue as a top priority during a 2009 airline Safety Call to Action following the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407. The FAA launched an aggressive effort to take advantage of the latest research on fatigue to create a new pilot flight, duty and rest proposal, which the agency issued on September 10, 2010. 

Key components of this final rule for commercial passenger flights include:

Varying flight and duty requirements based on what time the pilot’s day begins.   The new rule incorporates the latest fatigue science to set different requirements for pilot flight time, duty period and rest based on the time of day pilots begin their first flight, the number of scheduled flight segments and the number of time zones they cross. The previous rules included different rest requirements for domestic, international and unscheduled flights.  Those differences were not necessarily consistent across different types of passenger flights, and did not take into account factors such as start time and time zone crossings. 

Flight duty period.  The allowable length of a flight duty period depends on when the pilot’s day begins and the number of flight segments he or she is expected to fly, and ranges from 9-14 hours for single crew operations.  The flight duty period begins when a flightcrew member is required to