February 1, 2001
ALPA Petitions to Intervene in ATA Suit on Pilot Duty Time Regulations
WASHINGTON, D.C.---The Air Line Pilots Association has asked to intervene in a suit brought by the airlines’ trade group, which is attempting to overturn the FAA’s interpretation of a rule that prevents pilots from being on duty more than 16 hours per day.
"It’s an unconscionable ploy to save money at the expense of safety," said Capt. Duane Woerth, president of ALPA. "The airlines have turned to the courts, armed with the flimsiest of legal pretexts, in a desperate attempt to avoid compliance with the FAA’s interpretation of existing rules that limit pilot work hours," he said.
At issue is a "petition for review" filed last month by the Air Transport Association, which represents most of the nation’s larger airlines. The ATA is seeking to block the FAA from enforcing its interpretation of the Federal Aviation Regulations that limit how many hours an airline pilot can be on duty.
Although ALPA and other pilot unions had understood the rule to be applied to actual flight time hours, many airlines – and even some FAA inspectors – held that the limitation only applies to a pilot’s scheduled hours. In the airlines’ view, if a pilot’s series of flights is scheduled to keep him on duty for 16 hours, there is no limit to the number of hours the duty period can be extended because of operational delays. In other words, he could stay on duty for 20 or 30 hours straight and still not violate the minimum rest requirement, under the ATA’s interpretation.
Last year the Allied Pilots Association sought and got an interpretation from FAA, saying that the rule applies to actual, not scheduled flying. In apparent open defiance, airlines refused to recognize the interpretation and continued to apply the rule only to scheduled duty times. When the FAA began preparing a notice that would require all airlines as well as its own inspectors to follow the "actual time" interpretation, ATA filed a "Petition for review of order" in the U.S. Court of Appeals (District of Columbia Circuit, No. 01-1027).
On Jan. 31, ALPA filed its motion to intervene. "The ATA’s case rests on the insupportable claim that the FAA’s interpretation constitutes rulemaking, and therefore, does not meet the administrative procedures requirements for promulgating a new rule. It is beyond me how interpreting a previously existing rule constitutes new rulemaking, but this case is of such importance to safety that we felt compelled to intervene," Woerth said.
"Furthermore, let’s not lose sight of the fact that a much-needed overhaul of the flight and duty time regulations has been bottled up at FAA for five years now because of airline opposition. Ten years of NASA research into pilot fatigue have given us a scientific basis to reform these rules, which date back to the 1930s. When viewed in that context, it is clear that the airlines have pulled out all the stops in their efforts to thwart any attempt to modernize these important safety rules. Consequently, ALPA is pulling out all its stops, and we will continue to press for a modernization of the rules as well as proper interpretation of existing ones," Woerth said.
ALPA represents 59,000 airline pilots at 49 carriers in the U.S. and Canada. For more information on flight and duty time issues, go tohttp://cf.alpa.org and click on the Pilot Fatigue link at the top.
# # #
ALPA CONTACT: John Mazor (703) 481-4440