Even Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, admitted that it took the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) longer than it should have.
But now the 15 months spent crafting a plan to lessen pilots’ flying hours, thus reducing the dangers of pilot fatigue, are about to become a reality.
The rules, which were announced a couple of days ago, will make it mandatory for pilots to have 9 hours of rest between work days, instead of the current 8 hours, maximizing a pilot’s 24-hour shift (being at work and ready to fly or actually flying) to 13 hours, 3 fewer hours than present regulations call for.
ABC World News reported that pilots have been complaining for years that 8 hours of rest isn’t enough, implying the obvious, that a fatigued pilot puts everyone’s life at risk.
Secretary LaHood acknowledged what was widely known in the industry: that the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo was the impetus to change the rules. That crash killed all 49 people aboard and one on the ground, and it widely believed that pilot fatigue contributed considerably to the tragedy.
The rules governing flying hours have not been updated in more than two decades, and even this plan is far from perfect from the pilots’ point of view
Airlines will be allowed to schedule pilots who start their work day at 7 a.m and 1.p.m. for as much as ten hours of flying time, two more hours than are allowed now.
Any increase in flying time, put forth by the airlines, drew immediate opposition from pilots, including Jeff Skiles, the first officer on the US Airways plane that ditched in the Hudson River last year.
But the new regulations do give a pilot the right to decline an assignment, without penalty, if he or she is fatigued.
Since 1990, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended updating the rules to reflect fatigue research because experts have equated fatigue and alcohol, relative to degrading a pilot’s response time to events.