Pilot-Rest Plan Is `Onerous,’ 15 Times More Costly, Airlines Say – Bloomberg

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  • A Federal Aviation Administration plan to give pilots more rest in response to a fatal crash in upstate New York will be 15 times more expensive than projected, the airlines’ trade group said in opposing the rules.

    The Air Transport Association in Washington, representing the nation’s biggest carriers, said the plan is “onerous” and would cost $19.6 billion in the next 10 years, not $1.25 billion as projected by the FAA.

    “The factual record that the FAA organized is riddled with mistakes and the analysis fails to make a rational connection between the facts, science and operational experience,” the trade group, whose members include United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., said yesterday in comments.

    Labor unions for pilots also faulted the agency proposal, signaling the FAA failed to reach a consensus on a plan that would revamp fatigue rules that have been in effect for decades with results of research showing the number of takeoffs and landings, not just hours worked, affects tiredness.

    The rule proposed on Sept. 10, which could change after the comments are reviewed, must become final by next August, under a deadline set by Congress.

    The agency is proposing that airline pilots would get nine hours of rest between shifts, a 13 percent rise from current schedules. The changes, prompted by an airplane crash that left no survivors last year near Buffalo, New York, also would require that pilots get at least 30 consecutive work-free hours a week, a 25 percent increase from existing rules.

    Research, Operations

    The agency should work with airlines to write a rule using scientific research and information about airline operations, airline trade association Chief Executive Officer James May said in a statement.

    Pilots for carriers such as AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and US Airways Group Inc. also object, saying the FAA should scrap part of the plan that in some cases would let crews operate the controls as long as 10 hours, up from eight.

    “You cannot reduce pilot fatigue by increasing the time the pilot is at the controls,” Jeffrey Skiles, first officer on the US Airways flight that crashed without fatalities into the Hudson River in New York in January 2009, said at a Nov. 10 news conference.

    The FAA began overhauling the rules in June 2009, four months after a regional carrier flying for Continental Airlines Inc. crashed near Buffalo, killing 50 people, including both pilots. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the pilots’ performances probably were impaired by fatigue, though it couldn’t determine the extent of their tiredness or the role that may have played.

    Colgan Pilot

    Captain Marvin Renslow, 47, “had experienced chronic sleep loss,” the board said in its report, which blamed the crash of the plane from Pinnacle Airline Corp.’s Colgan Air unit on his incorrect response to a cockpit stall warning.

    The Regional Airline Association, a Washington-based group with members including Pinnacle, said in its comments yesterday that it would support any FAA effort to withdraw and replace the current pilot-fatigue plan.

    “The magnitude of the necessary changes that we see is beyond what we would have hoped for,” according to the association, whose members include Republic Airways Holdings Inc. and SkyWest Inc. “Airlines strongly believe that getting the regulation right is more important than getting it out quickly.”

    The proposal limits workdays to as few as nine hours when a pilot flies seven or more segments. Those who start between midnight and 4 a.m. also face a nine-hour limit. Pilots who begin from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. could work as long as 13 hours.

    The maximum workday would be trimmed to 13 hours, from 16 under the 1940s-era rules last updated in 1985. Unions have said the current eight-hour break between shifts is insufficient, because after waiting in airport security lines and traveling to hotels, pilots may have only a few hours for sleep.

    To contact the reporter on this story: John Hughes in Washington at jhughes5@bloomberg.net.

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

    As an airline pilot myself, I have to agree that the number of takeoffs and landings during a work day has more to do with fatigue than with actual time off, except that if one is continually cheated of sleep, fatigue sets in after only a few days of repeated “9 hour” rest periods… that’s 9 hours to check into a hotel, shit, shower, brush your teeth, wind down a bit, call the wife, sleep (hopefully), get up, shower, brush your teeth, pack your things, and check out of the hotel. “Rest” – my – a$$….

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