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FAA Withdraws 'Outdated' 1995 Pilot Duty Proposal

November 25, 2009 — In the wake of several accidents and incidents, such as this year’s Colgan Air crash in Buffalo, New York, and the “distracted flying” incident by a Northwest Airlines flight crew, the FAA has withdrawn a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) addressing fatigue it first issued in 1995.  The move is part of a new FAA effort was launched last June by Administrator Randy Babbitt to examine flight time and rest rules in part to find ways to reduce risk in regional airline operations.

An Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) was formed to make recommendations for a science-based approach to fatigue management that would then inform a new NPRM. The FAA cited the fact that airlines now operate in 24 time zones and technology has extended the range of aircraft far beyond the circadian rhythms of pilots. The agency also notes that short-range and multi-leg operations are also driving the need for flight time and duty rest reforms.

Currently, airline crews can be on duty no longer than 16 hours and cannot exceed eight hours of flight time. Crews also must have eight hours of rest between duty periods (16/8/8). The 1995 proposal would have brought the airline duty rules in line with Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 135 air-taxi duty rules that are currently 14/10/10. The fact that the rule was never adopted highlights several failed industry and FAA attempts since then to draft alternate proposals that are acceptable to everyone. Airlines chaffed at the proposed reduction in duty time, citing a lack of FAA data regarding the effects of fatigue rules and the disruption in flight schedules.

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