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FAA announces new pilot fatigue rules

December 27, 2011, 11:20 am

The Federal Aviation Administration recently announced a new set of rules and safeguards designed to increase the minimum rest period for airline pilots and make it easier for fatigued pilots to remove themselves from a flight and avoid an accident. While pilot insurance could protect against mistakes that may occur in the sky if a pilot is too tired, the FAA has designed rules to keep pilots and passengers safer while in the air.

The Chicago Tribune reported the FAA rules are based on scientific evidence of how the body works. After a certain period of time, a pilot will need to take a break and rest. To ensure these rules are followed, pilots will be given flight-time limits so accidents associated with fatigue can be prevented.

One specific provision in the rules will require pilots to take at least 10-hour rest periods before a flight, and within that period there must be the opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep time. Previously, the rules required a minimum of eight hours for pilots to rest prior to a flight. However, this minimum often resulted in a lack of sleep, because there was also time taken to transport the pilots to and from airports during their time off, the source reported.

Officials said the new regulations should also make passengers feel safer, knowing sleep-deprived pilots are not in control of the plane. These rules come after reports of airplane accidents that might have been caused by pilot fatigue. Pilots used to take naps during flights when they were tired, and this often led to mishaps and crashes, the source reported.

The FAA expects the new rules to cost the industry about $297 million over the next 10 years, and be expensive for airlines to implement. Thus, the FAA plans to introduce the rules slowly over the next two years to make the costs manageable. Some possible added costs that could result from the new rules would be for airlines to hire more reserve pilots, the source reported.

However, the new rules do not apply to cargo flight pilots, much to the chagrin of National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. Although Hersman agrees with the new rules, she believes all pilots should be held to the new requirements.

"A tired pilot is a tired pilot, whether there are 10 paying customers on board or 100, whether the payload is passengers or pallet," Hersman said.

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