WASHINGTON (AP) - Rules aimed at preventing airline pilots from flying while dangerously fatigued were issued Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration, a move safety advocates have been urging for more than two decades.
The rules update current pilot work schedule regulations, which largely date back to the 1960s, to reflect studies on how much time pilots need for rest and an understanding of how travel through time zones and the human body clock's response to light and darkness can affect performance.
Carriers have two years to adapt to the new rules. The FAA estimated the cost to industry at $297 million over 10 years, a fraction of the $2 billion a year that an airline trade association had estimated a draft proposal released by FAA over a year ago would cost.
The airline industry had opposed the draft rule as too costly for the safety benefits it would achieve. But FAA officials made substantial changes to the final rule to lower the cost. Several expensive reporting and training requirements were eliminated.
The new rules come nearly three years after the deadly crash of a regional airliner flown by two exhausted pilots. Family members of the 50 people killed in the accident near Buffalo, N.Y., have lobbied relentlessly for more stringent regulations.
The rules should be named in honor of those families who pushed successfully for action, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a news conference. "This is a big deal," LaHood said. "This is as far as our government has ever gone" to protect the traveling public from pilot fatigue.
The rules would limit the maximum number of hours a pilot can be scheduled to be on duty - including wait time before flights and administrative duties - to between nine and 14 hours. The total depends upon the time of day pilots begin their first flight and the number of time zones crossed.
The maximum amount of time pilots can be scheduled to fly is limited to eight or nine hours, and pilots would get a minimum of 10 hours to rest between duty periods, a two-hour increase over the old rules. Pilots flying overnight would be allowed fewer hours than pilots flying during the day.
But cargo carriers - who do much of their flying overnight when people naturally crave sleep - are exempted from the new rules. The FAA said forcing cargo carriers to reduce the number of hours their pilots can fly would be too costly compared to the safety benefits.