Rule Change Would Give Pilots More Sleep Time

Pilots of commercial planes would get nine hours off between shifts to help combat fatigue, in a proposed rule change announced by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

That's an hour more than in the current rule, which dates back 15 years. The change would allow pilots time to get to a hotel and still get eight hours sleep.

The Federal Aviation Administration's plan to combat pilot fatigue also proposes changes based on the time of day pilots work, number of scheduled flight segments, flight types and time zones.

The proposed changes were prompted by the crash of a Colgan Air plane near Buffalo last year, in which all 50 people onboard were killed. Both pilots of that plane were believed to be suffering from fatigue.

"This (proposal) will help protect more than 700 million passengers and pilots who travel our nation's airways each year," LaHood says. He says the changes will represent "a significant improvement in air travel safety."

But there are already critics. Some point out that while the proposed rule cuts the amount of time pilots can be on duty (ready to fly or flying) by three hours to 13 hours in a 24-hour period, it also allows carriers to schedule pilots who start their work day between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. for 10 hours of flying time, two hours more than currently allowed.

"The insidious problem of pilot fatigue cannot be fought by increasing the amount of time pilots fly in the cockpit," says Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot of the US Airways plane that ditched into the Hudson River last year, who has been lobbying for stronger safety regulations on behalf of pilot unions.

After a public comment period, the rule is expected to become final in 2011.

Photo, lrargerich, flickr
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