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FAA’s Pilot Fatigue Rule Under Scrutiny

Smiling Pilot

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released its final ruling to limit aviation pilots’ flying and duty hours. Although the ruling is a victory for those pilots responsible for passenger planes, many professionals in the industry are up in arms about the exception of the rule for cargo pilots.

“It is outrageous that the new rule does not include cargo,” said FedEx Master Executive Council (MEC) Chairman Scott Stratton. “Cargo aircraft operate into the same airspace, into the same crowded airports surrounded by millions of homes, and face the same challenges every other professional aviator encounters on a 24-hour basis.”

Essentially, the new ruling limits the hours of both flight and duty for pilots operating passenger planes, in order to reduce the risk of fatigue-related incidents.

Stratton, who is clearly not satisfied with the ruling’s inequality for both sides of aviation safety, had strong words for the FAA in regards to the decision.

“This nonsense indicates the character of the political process that produced this rule,” Stratton adds. “It is clear that special-interest money and politics won over safety today, but we will not sit idly by and allow another 50 years of ambivalence to take hold.”

According to the Deborah Hersman, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), pilot fatigue measures have been on the NTSB’s “Most Wanted” list of transportation safety improvements since 1990. She says the rule is “a long-awaited science-based rule for flight and duty time” and applauds the FAA’s decision, but like Stratton, is not satisfied with the ruling as it relates to cargo planes.

“While this is not a perfect rule, it is a huge improvement over the status quo for large passenger-carrying operations,” Hersman said. “Yet we are extremely disappointed that the new rule is limited to Part 121 carriers.”

Both Stratton and Hersman agree that there should be no distinction between pilots carrying passengers and pilots carrying cargo, and hope to have the rule extend to cargo carriers in the near future.

“A tired pilot is a tired pilot, whether there are 10 paying customers on board or 100, whether the payload is passengers or pilots,” Hersman added. “As the FAA said in its draft, ‘Fatigue threatens aviation safety because it increases the risk of pilot error that could lead to an accident.’ This is particularly a concern for crews that fly ‘on the back side of the clock.’”

Despite the current protest for the extent of the rule, Stratton expressed that his goal is to pursue a universal approach to pilot safety.

“Our work to achieve a single level of safety as envisioned by the founding members of the Air Line Pilots Association International shall continue.”

Readers, what do you think about making exceptions for pilots who only carry cargo? Please tell us your thoughts in the comment box below.

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