During a June 24 call to action meeting, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator Randy Babbitt accelerated the review of flight and rest rules by setting a July 31 deadline for unions and US airlines to develop specific commitments to strengthen fatigue-related safety measures at regional and major airlines.

"We know that the airline industry is committed to operate at the highest level of safety," said Babbitt during a June 15 meeting. "Now is the time to push these initiatives forward."

Fatigue has been listed on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) “Most Wanted” list of transportation safety improvements in aviation since 1990. The NTSB has stated that action from the FAA is long overdue.

“Safety Board recommendations on the issue of human fatigue and hours-of-work policies have had a substantial effect on encouraging the modal agencies to conduct research and take actions towards understanding the complex problem of operator fatigue in transportation and how it can affect performance. However, the FAA has taken little if any action directly related to revising existing regulations and work scheduling practices,” states the NTSB site.

According to an announcement from the FAA, pilot fatigue is a high priority, and the administration plans to work rapidly to develop and implement a new flight time and rest rule based on fatigue science and a review of international approaches to the issue. By July 15, the agency will establish an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC)—including FAA, labor, and industry representatives. The ARC will have a September 1 deadline to develop recommendations for new rules to limit fatigue among pilots.

The FAA plans to hold at least 10 regional safety forums throughout the country to open dialogue with as many airlines as possible, solidify commitments to the actions identified in the Call to Action meeting, and discuss additional best practices.

According to a recent article in USA Today, an effort to get unions and airlines to reach a compromise in the 1990s failed, leaving 50-year-old rules in place.

According to USA Today, currently pilots generally can fly up to 8 hours a day during a maximum 16-hour workday, which includes time on the ground between flights. No restrictions are in place on middle of the night flights or making numerous takeoffs and landings.

Curtis Graeber, a scientist who has studied pilot fatigue for nearly 30 years, told USA Today, “Factors such as how many days in a row a pilot has worked and whether rest periods allow for a good night’s sleep should be used to limit flying time.

“Airlines in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have begun adopting such rules,” said Graeber, "Getting that kind of consensus [in the United States] has proved challenging in the past."

Related articles:
NTSB Remains Committed to Eliminating Fatigue in Transportation Industry
Sleeping Pilots Fired by Airline and Suspended by FAA