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FAA Unveils New Pilot Fatigue Rules

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - 12:42 PM

(image courtesy of U.S. DOT)

Airline pilots will fly shorter shifts and get longer rest periods under new rules issued by the  Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday.

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.

"This new rule gives pilots enough time to get the rest they really need to safely get passengers to their destinations,” said FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta.

The new rules come nearly three years after a Colgan Air jet flown by two exhausted pilots crashed outside of Buffalo, killing 49 people -- a day U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called "one of my worst days in this job."

Carriers have two years to adapt to the new rules. The FAA estimated the cost to the industry at $297 million over 10 years.

Cargo carriers -- who do much of their flying overnight -- 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. The FAA is encouraging cargo carriers to opt into the new rule voluntarily

Congressman John Mica, who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, issued a statement tepidly praising the new rules, but said: "Pilots must take personal responsibility for coming to work rested and fit for duty.  The government cannot put a chocolate on every one of their pillows and tuck them in at night.”

You can read more about the new rules on the FAA's website here.

(Additional reporting from AP)

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