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FAA sets pilot-fatigue prevention mandate

By control on December 21, 2011

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that commercial passenger pilots must rest for at least 10 hours before reporting for flight duty, among other mandates. It’s a ruling that has been deemed “voluntary” for cargo pilots, much to the dismay of some in the airfreight sector.

The FAA has also set a flight-time limit of eight or nine hours and ruled that single-crew operations can only report for nine- to 14-hour flight duties. Pilots must also communicate if they are fit for duty at the beginning of each flight, per the FAA’s new ruling.

According to a press release issued by the FAA, this ruling will cost the aviation industry approximately $297 million, although it estimates that the benefits gleaned from it fall between $247 million and $470 million.

Either way, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls the mandate “a major safety achievement.” “We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit,” LaHood said in a statement. “This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue.”

Some in the air cargo industry are afraid that it does little to improve the safety of freight pilots, however. Although the FAA did address the airfreight sector in a press release, it stated that, “covering cargo operators under the new rule would be too costly compared to the benefits generated in this portion of the industry.”

What’s more, the FAA praised strides made by cargo carriers to reduce pilot fatigue and encouraged them “to opt into the new rule voluntarily.”

Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association, the trade union representing UPS, believes such logic is absurd. “Giving air cargo carriers the choice to opt into new pilot rest rules makes a much sense as allowing truckers to ‘opt-out’ of drunk driving laws,” he said in a statement.

“To potentially allow fatigued cargo pilots to share the same skies with properly rested passenger pilots creates an unnecessary threat to public safety,” Travis continued. “We can do better.”

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