New Pilot Fatigue Rules Could Mean New Delays

The Super Bowl victors didn’t take the direct route home from Newark to Seattle on Monday. Instead, the Seahawks diverted to Minneapolis. Media reports blamed it on weather delays in northeast which meant the crew “timed out” and had to be replaced. Timed out? Yes – the result of a new FAA rule governing how long pilots can go without rest.

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New Pilot Fatigue Rules

The new rule – which was announced in December 2011, but did not go into effect until January 2014 – requires pilots to get a “10-hour minimum rest period prior to the flight duty period, a two-hour increase over the old rules. It also requires that pilots have at least 30 consecutive hours free from duty on a weekly basis, a 25 percent increase over the old rules.” More information on the rule is available at FAA.gov. And as one observer noted, the airlines have had two years to prepare.

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What This Means for Passengers

The new fatigue rule probably has little if any impact on most passengers but it can affect flights on rare occasions. Besides that Seahawks flight, JetBlue mentioned the rule in a January blog post explaining the difficulties in getting passengers back in the air after a particularly brutal storm: “Even as airports began to reopen though, newly launched FAA regulations on pilot duty times caused delayed flights to quickly turn into canceled ones.”

Is this common? About as common as pilots falling asleep on the job, but it that has happened, too. Far more likely, in our view, are the benefits to passengers. Just ask yourself, who would you rather have in the cockpit – a well-rested pilot or someone who is not feeling his or her best due to fatigue?

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Published: February 4, 2014