Passenger airline pilots will work shorter hours and get longer rest periods under the first revision of rules to limit fatigue since 1985, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said.
The regulation is the first safety enhancement to result from a 2009 crash near Buffalo, New York, that killed 50 people. However, it falls short of the goal the FAA set last year to craft common rules for all pilots at cargo carriers and passenger airlines flying planes with 10 or more seats.
“The basic bottom line is consumers can expect to see higher airfares and reduced levels of service as a direct result of these rules,” Helane Becker, a Dahlman Rose & Co. airline analyst in New York, said in a telephone interview.
Fifty-passenger planes operated by regional airlines including Pinnacle Airlines Corp., Republic Airways Holdings Inc. and SkyWest Inc. will “become dinosaurs” as they become less cost-effective to operate, she said.
The rules will take effect in two years. They will cost passenger airlines $297 million over 10 years, while preventing an unspecified number of accidents and saving airlines $247 million to $470 million in related costs and other benefits, the FAA said in a fact sheet.
Applying the rules to cargo airlines, which had lobbied against them, “would be too costly,” the FAA said in a statement today. “The FAA encourages cargo operators to opt into the new rule voluntarily,” according to the statement.
Airlines for America, the Washington-based trade organization that represents the interests of major carriers including United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., will have a comment on the rules later today, Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the group, said in an e-mail.
Trebor Banstetter, a Delta spokesman, referred questions to the trade group and declined to comment further. United and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines didn’t immediately provide comments.
The maximum number of hours passenger-airline pilots can work will be reduced to between 9 and 14 a day, from 16 hours now, according to the fact sheet. The minimum rest period per day will increase from as little as 8 hours to 10, according to the fact sheet.
The new rules also provide an accommodation to airlines, allowing pilots to sit at the controls for an hour longer per day, from eight hours to as many as nine, according to the fact sheet.
The FAA yielded to “unprecedented industry pressure” in exempting cargo airlines from the rules, Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association, said in a statement. The union represents pilots at United Parcel Service Inc.
“Today, the executive branch has decided that the price of aviation safety, in the form of new pilot rest rules, is too high,” Travis said.
Airlines for America had said in government filings that the FAA’s proposed plan was “onerous” and would cost $19.6 billion over 10 years. That was before the cargo airlines were exempted.
Regional airlines had already been “having major issues with how they were going to compete” because of factors including the rising price of jet fuel, Becker said.
“With these new rules, we can pretty much be assured that the 50-passenger planes are going away,” Becker said. “Consumers in small and medium-sized cities will also be disproportionately affected.”
The FAA reduced costs of the rule by granting airlines flexibility to go over current flight-duty period limits during unforeseen events, such as storms, which reduces the need for airlines to build buffers into their schedules.
The rule excludes fatigue-related training costs. That training was mandated by Congress in legislation that went into effect this year, so it’s no longer included in the rule’s costs.
The government is attempting to tailor the rules to the latest scientific research on human fatigue. Pilots flying late at night, across multiple time zones or on schedules involving numerous landings and takeoffs will work shorter shifts than those flying during the day.
The FAA used that same data to justify allowing pilots to be at the controls for nine hours a day, instead of eight.
The rule comes after more than 20 years of calls for change from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates aviation accidents. The board listed fatigue reduction as one of its “Most Wanted” safety enhancements in 1990 and has issued almost 200 fatigue-related recommendations. It has found that fatigue has contributed to accidents on planes, motor vehicles, trains and ships.
“This is a major safety achievement,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the FAA statement. “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.”
Family members of victims of the Feb. 12, 2009, crash near Buffalo, involving a plane operated by Pinnacle’s Colgan Air unit, advocated for stronger limits on pilot work hours after the accident. The NTSB found that both pilots on the flight hadn’t slept well the previous night. The safety board stopped short of blaming fatigue for the accident.
The exemption for cargo airlines was a reversal of the FAA’s stated goal, in its proposed rule released last year, of adopting consistent standards to replace what it called a “hodgepodge” of rules.
“The proposal recognizes the growing similarities between the types of operations and the universality of factors that lead to fatigue in most individuals,” the introduction to the proposed rule said.
The FAA based its proposal on the work of an advisory committee made up of industry and labor representatives. While the committee agreed to many of the key provisions, airlines and labor groups later criticized the proposal in comments filed with the government.
Charter airlines that fly 87 percent of U.S. troops around the world also lobbied against the fatigue regulations, according to the rule’s public docket. They were not granted an exemption, according to the fact sheet.
Current regulations allow troop-transport pilots to fly longer hours with less rest than their peers at scheduled airlines.
The NTSB blamed fatigue in part for a 2009 accident in Baltimore on a World Airways jet carrying 168 U.S. soldiers home from Iraq. The bounced landing destroyed the jet. One occupant suffered serious injuries.
Revising pilot work rules is “a non-problem looking for a solution,” A. Oakley Brooks, president of the National Air Carrier Association, has said. The Arlington, Virginia-based group represents firms including World, a unit of Global Aviation Holdings Inc., and closely held Omni Air International.
The proposal would cost its 13 member carriers $3.7 billion over 10 years and require them to hire 42 percent more pilots, the association said in comments on the proposed rule.
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