Release #09.84
December 2, 2009

Pilots to FAA: Fatigue Rule Needed Now

WASHINGTON – In testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, Capt. John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l, (ALPA), told senators that current federal flight- and duty-time rules for airline pilots are obsolete and modern science-based regulations are needed now to combat pilot fatigue and safeguard passengers and cargo.

“We are disappointed by the FAA’s announcement that the draft regulation will be delayed until early next year, but we expect work to remain on track to create a new regulation by mid-2010,” said Prater after his testimony before the Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “The threat from pilot fatigue is dire, and the decisive action our industry needs from the FAA can’t come quickly enough.”

The existing rules date from the 1950s and are “a stick-and-wire biplane struggling to stay aloft in a supersonic age,” Prater said in his testimony to the members of the Senate. “I ask for your help in giving the flying public a new, consistent level of safety by ensuring that every pilot in the United States starts every trip alert and rested.”

Prater said the new rule on pilot fatigue must meet three criteria to be truly effective: it must be based on scientific research into human fatigue and circadian rhythms, it should be uniform for all airline pilots, and it should encourage airline managers and pilot unions to collaborate in setting up voluntary Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) at their individual carriers.

“No science exists to support multiple sets of flight-time and duty-time limits. No rational argument can be made for different flight/duty rules for pilots based on whether they fly passengers or cargo, domestic or international,” he said. Prater pointed to existing rules that allow cargo pilots to fly up to 60 percent more hours in a given week than pilots carrying passengers within the United States. “Exceptions or ‘carve-outs’ would kill long-overdue efforts to ensure all pilots are well rested. Worse, carve-outs would undermine the one-level-of-safety principle that must remain our ultimate goal.”

Seven ALPA pilots representing every spectrum of the airline industry participated in an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) that made recommendations to the FAA. FAA Administrator Randolph Babbitt had publicly stated that his agency would publish a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on this vital aviation safety issue by the end of 2009, and issue a final rule next year.

“I remain encouraged that we finally appear to be on the verge of securing the modern, science-based flight- and duty-time rules we know are so vital to enhancing aviation safety,” concluded Prater. “We look forward to evaluating the FAA’s proposed rule, and challenge the administration to stay on target for a final rule by mid-2010.”

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilots union, representing nearly 53,000 pilots at 36 airlines in the United States and Canada.

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Contact: ALPA Media Relations, 703/481-4440 or media@alpa.org