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New FAA rule focuses on pilot fatigue for passenger airlines; cargo airlines are exempted

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
December 22, 2011

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) yesterday rolled out a final rule focused on commercial airline pilot scheduling so that “pilots have a longer opportunity for rest before they enter the cockpit.”

The primary components of this rule are:
-varying flight and duty requirements based on what time the pilot’s day begins;
-adjusting the allowable length of a duty period to be based on when the pilot’s day begins, and the number flight segments a pilot is expected to fly, which ranges from 9-14 hours for single crew operations;
-limiting flight time when the plane is moving under its own power before, during or after flight to eight or nine hours depending on the start time of the pilot’s entire flight duty rest period; and
-a 10-hour minimum rest period prior to the flight duty period, which is two hours more than the previous rule, and mandates that a pilot must have an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep within the 10-hour rest period.

FAA officials said that the estimated cost of this rule to the aviation industry is $297 million, with the benefits estimated to be between $247 million to $470 million.

And in what can be viewed as a boon to air cargo shippers is the fact that air cargo operators are not required to comply within this rule, as it would be too costly compared to the benefits generated in this portion of the industry, according to the FAA. They added that some cargo airlines have improved rest facilities for pilots to use when cargo is loaded and unloaded at night.

But FAA officials said they are encouraging air cargo carriers to voluntarily comply with the new rule voluntarily.

The face that air cargo carriers are not required to abide by these rules was not well received by the Allied Pilots Association (APA), the certified collective bargaining agent for the 10,000 pilots of American Airlines.

“We strongly object to exempting cargo carriers from the new rules,” said APA President Captain Dave Bates in a statement. “A fatigued pilot is a fatigued pilot, whether their aircraft contains passengers or cargo. Passenger and cargo carriers both operate high-performance jet aircraft in the same congested airspace. Safety is paramount in commercial aviation. When somebody makes a mistake in our industry, it can have serious consequences. And when crewmembers are fatigued, they’re more likely to make mistakes. We therefore urge the FAA to reconsider the wisdom of a cargo carrier exemption.”

Washington, D.C.-based Airforwarders Association (AfA) Executive Director Brandon Fried said that most of the AfA’s forwarder members are traditionally non-asset based and might charter air cargo planes, with the clear victors in this case being express carriers.

Comparing cargo pilots to passenger pilots, said Fried, can almost be viewed as an apples-to-oranges comparison.

“One size does not fit all,” he said. “Cargo pilots for the most part fly about half of the amount of time as passenger pilots do. FedEx, UPS, or TNT might lift off at 11 p.m. and fly into a regional hub and get some break time and then return by 3 or 4 a.m., which is not the same as a passenger pilot flying across the country…and not being cognizant of what is going on due to a lack of sleep. I don’t see the comparison there.”

Fried added that large passenger airlines are regularly used by AfA members, and he made it clear that as an association the AfA always errs on the side of safety and security, noting, though, that this rule is obviously a bigger deal for passenger airlines.

UPS spokesman Norman Black told LM that from a UPS standpoint, the FAA appropriately recognized that cargo and passenger operations require different fatigue mitigation measures. 

“One size has never fit all when it comes to crew rest regulations,” said Black. “UPS believes the FAA has recognized this fact and made an appropriate decision in its new rule.”

And in the case of UPS, Black said that its current fatigue practices for pilots, such as flying many fewer hours per month and building special rest facilities meet a much higher standard and far exceed the current U.S rest regulations. What’s more, he added that UPS is committed to working with the FAA and its pilots to achieve best practices for fatigue mitigation, as long as they take into account the unique nature of cargo operations.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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