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News Release

Release #01.61
June 14, 2001

ALPA Chief Blasts Airlines’ Attempt to Evade Pilot Fatigue Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C.---Not content to make airline pilots work 16 hours at a stretch, the airlines’ trade group has just petitioned the FAA to revoke a pilot fatigue rule so that they can work 18 hours at a stretch, or 20 hours, or – theoretically -- until they fall asleep at the controls. And the head of the nation’s largest pilot union says that he has had enough.

"I have come to the conclusion that these people have no shame, that there are no limits to the distortions and diversions they are willing to create in order to avoid having to comply with a vital safety rule that is backed by solid scientific evidence, not to mention common sense," said Captain Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. ALPA represents 66,000 airline pilots at 47 airlines in the U.S. and Canada.

Woerth was blasting a June 12 filing by the Air Transport Association, asking that the FAA stay enforcement of a rule that effectively limits pilot work hours to 16 in any 24-hour period. This allows barely eight hours away from duty, which in most cases only provides a pilot with five or six hours of sleep.

"A 16-hour day is hard enough for anyone, let alone a pilot, who must maintain his mental and physical faculties at top performance levels. A pilot who is on duty 16 hours has been awake at least 17 hours – and we know from scientific study that this produces an impairment in performance equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent. It is illegal for pilots to fly with a BAC of 0.04 percent, because that produces what the FAA considers to be an unacceptable impairment to performance, yet the airlines are content – no, let’s make that adamant – that their pilots be allowed to fly under conditions worse than that," Woerth said.

"I’ve looked at the ATA petition, and in a quarter-century in the airline business, I’ve never seen such a blatantly hypocritical collection of distortions and half-truths attempting to camouflage naked greed," he said.

"First, the FAA is not acting unlawfully, as the airlines claim. What is unlawful is the continued flouting of this safety rule by the airlines, even after the FAA put the industry on notice last month with a clear delineation of how the rule is to be interpreted. Second, they have the nerve to hide behind public interest, claiming that enforcement of the rule will cause passenger delays. If passengers are looking for someone to blame, it would be the airlines with their cheeseparing attempts to get by without hiring enough pilots," Woerth said.

"Third – and this really rankles me and every airline pilot – they made a pathetic attempt to divert public concerns about pilot fatigue and safety by concocting a laughable argument that enforcement actually would harm safety! Ironically, they then go on to say that "no party will be harmed by a stay" to the rule. Tell that to the victims, if we have a fatigue-related accident because of these ATA stalling tactics," he said.

"And stalling seems to be their chief tactic now. Sooner or later, the FAA is going to drop the other shoe and propose some drastically needed amendments to the flight time rules. The airlines know they can’t win in the long run, so they’ve resorted to throwing every imaginable roadblock into the path of enforcement and reform. Their Alertness Management Initiative was a stalling tactic under the guise of scientific research. They’ve already gone to court once over the 16-hour rule, and now they’re trying to trip up the FAA with administrative red tape," Woerth said.

"Last month, airline pilot unions issued a joint demand for new rules that would do four things: Establish one flight/duty time standard for all airline pilots, maintain the current 8-hour flight time limit, reduce the maximum scheduled duty time to 12 hours with further restrictions for midnight-to-dawn flights, and give pilots a minimum break of 10 hours off-duty to allow an 8-hour sleep opportunity. If ATA really were interested in promoting safety, they would support their pilots, not oppose them at every step of the way," he said.

"We’ve had it with their endless protestations that they want reform, that they want pilots to get adequate rest, that they want to do the right thing. Anyone who believes that after reading the ATA petition simply isn’t paying attention. It’s about money versus safety, pure and simple," Woerth said.

For more information on pilot fatigue and regulations, visit ALPA’s Web page on these issues at http://cf.alpa.org/internet/projects/ftdt.

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ALPA CONTACT: John Mazor, Anya Piazza (703) 481-4440