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Tue, Nov 02, 2004

Missouri Commuter Crash Raises Questions About Long Hours

Flight Crew Had Been On Duty Almost 15 Hours At The Time Of The Mishap

When Corporate Airlines Flight 5966 went down on approach to Kirksville Regional Airport (MO) last week, was fatigue a factor? The accident happened at the end of a very long, very grueling day for the flight crew. Was that an issue?

The cause of the accident is now -- and will be for some time -- under investigation. But already, the NTSB knows this much:

The flight crew, Captain Kim Sasse and First Officer Jonathan Palmer, was on its sixth leg of the day. They had been on duty for 14 hours, 41 minutes when they made their ill-fated approach into Kirksville on a flight from St. Louis.

The FAA has already set a pilot's maximum workday at no more than 16 hours. In 1995, the administration considered lowering that maximum to 14 hours -- but never did.

The FAA's own study on pilot fatigue shows a tired pilot is a dangerous pilot. The study showed fatigued air crew members were two to four times more likely to be involved in an accident than fresh, rested crews.

In spite of that and in spite of calls from the NTSB to lower the amount of hours pilots can fly, the FAA has done nothing further, saying no one could agree on how to ease the workload of cockpit crews.

"There was never any consensus on it," said FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory, in an interview with the AP. "We asked for comment and the comments were all over the board. The industry is not giving us much direction either. So basically, the regulations still stand."

Former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall agrees, but in a rather sardonic way. "The FAA continues to be a no-show on this issue," he said. "It’s probably the number one hazard that we have not effectively addressed in all forms of transportation."

As mentioned earlier, there is no determination that fatigue was a factor in the accident. In fact, Corporate Airlines spokesman Brannan Atkinson said such a possibility is "pure speculation." But it's speculation the NTSB will examine very carefully in coming months as it delves into the death of Flight 5966.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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