America Acts on Pilot Fatigue

In December 2011, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) published new US Flight Time Limitations rules, to replace its outdated regulations by a set of modern, science-based fatigue prevention rules. While the final rule contains a number of significant changes compared to the FAA’s initial proposal (“Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” - NPRM) of 2010, it largely keeps the balance of the NPRM, which was largely based on scientific evidence and best operational practice.

This move came after pilot fatigue was identified as a key factor that contributed to the Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, which killed 50 people on 12 Feb. 2009. Since 1990, pilot fatigue has been has been on the "Most Wanted List" of the US National Transport Safety Board (NTSB).

However, the publication of the new US rules was preceded by a fierce battle with the airline industry. Since the FAA had put its NPRM onn the table, in Sept. 2010, US operators strongly lobbied against stricter science-based rules, alleging that they would cost them billions of dollars. The FAA, however calculated that the cost to the airline industry would be around $297 million, while the (safety) benefits are estimated between $247-$470 million.

"There are special interests who are holding this rule up because it's not in their financial self-interest," NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. "The American people expect safety to trump special interests, not the other way around." (quote from AP article)

Despite the FAA’s significantly lower cost calculations, US all-cargo operators succeeded in obtaining to be excluded from the new rules – despite the fact that pilots flying cargo planes are subject to the same physiological and body-clock constraints as pilots flying passenger planes.

However, the US political establishment resisted the pressure from other parts of the industry (e.g. charter operators), and instead backed the FAA in its defence of a comprehensive set of science-based rules. These rules will apply – as of Dec. 2013 – to all commercial passenger operations, which represents the very large majority of US operations.


-       FAA Fact Sheet on the new US rules

-       FAA Press Release

-       Final rule text (314 pages)

-       FAA Mandates Longer Rest Periods for Pilots

-       FAA finalises controversial pilot fatigue rules :

-       US ALPA Press Statement:

-      Regulators Delay Pilot-Fatigue Rules

-      ALPA Chief Pushing Hard for Pilot Fatigue Rule

-       WNY Delegation Push for Safer Skies

-       Link to ECA Press Release

-       FAA's proposed flight duty time rule 'directly imposes' responsibility on airlines

-       FAA to Propose New Fatigue Rules

-       FAA Boss Promises Action on Pilot Fatigue; More News

-       ECA Press Release "America Acts, EU Paralysed" (PDF)

-       US Aviation Regulatory Committee on FTL (PDF)

-       ALPA Commends FAA Action to Combat Pilot Fatigue

-       Reuters: U.S. to address pilot fatigue in wake of deadly crash

-       CNN: Pilot fatigue is like 'having too much to drink'