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Thu, Jan 08, 2009

Several Airlines At Odds With FAA Over Rest Limit Rules

Carriers Want Formal Public Review Ahead Of Implementation

A cooperative effort between pilots and the FAA to extend guidelines for rest periods following long haul commercial airline flights has drawn the ire of several US carriers.

Tulsa World reports the FAA unilaterally imposed extended rest period guidelines for pilots on certain international routes last fall. The new regs -- requiring longer rest periods for pilots flying more than 16 consecutive hours -- came after negotiations with Delta Air Lines two years ago over a proposed route from New York JFK to Mumbai, India.

"Delta came to the FAA planning to fly JFK to Mumbai -- more than 16 hours -- with four pilots," said FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette. "Delta gave the pilots a 24-hour rest before the flight, a 48-hour rest after the flight, and in-flight they had rotated rest periods."

The FAA thought that was a sensible plan, one that other airlines flying long-haul routes should also adhere to... but other US carriers don't necessarily agree.

American Airlines and Continental Airlines have joined forces to require the FAA follow the standard process to implement the new guidelines, including time for a public comment period. The two carriers recently filed a joint lawsuit in the US Court of Appeals against the FAA to block the new regulations. JetBlue, United and US Airways also signed onto the suit. 

Mindful of how a court case against safety regulations looks in the court of public opinion, American took pains to say the airline isn't opposed to rules to make flying safer... but rather, that the FAA should follow the correct process before changing the law.

"The safety of our employees and customers is -- and always will be -- American Airlines' highest priority," the Fort Worth, TX-based carrier said in a written statement. "That includes flying long international routes, which we have done safely and consistently for years under existing FAA regulations. The collective opposition by this group of carriers ... to the FAA's imposition of long-haul flying rules reinforces this commitment to safety. By following an established and proven rulemaking process, the FAA can make the best-informed decision possible."

Duquette says the agency already made its decision, and did so within its rights. "We have authority to take a common-sense approach and work with the airlines if we see scientific evidence that supports their proposal..." she said. "We thought the Delta program worked very well to mitigate fatigue for flight crews."

As ANN reported Wednesday, the Allied Pilots Association -- the pilots union at American, and one consistently at odds with airline management -- isn't afraid to play the safety card in questioning why American is opposed to the rule being implemented now.

"The National Transportation Safety Board has identified as one of its 'most wanted transportation safety improvements' the reduction of aviation accidents and incidents caused by human fatigue," said APA President Lloyd Hill. "American Airlines management's effort to block new crew-rest rules that are designed to reduce the well-established safety risks associated with pilot fatigue is nothing short of unconscionable. We cannot fathom their rationale.

"Numerous scientific studies have compared the fatigue induced by periods of prolonged wakefulness to the debilitating effects of intoxication," Hill continued. "In the exacting world of commercial aviation, we must do all we can to combat the dangers posed by fatigue."

For its part, Delta has remained quiet about the conflagration resulting from its original request.



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