Airline Pilots Begin Operations Under New Rest Rules

  • Feb 1, 2014 9:36pm GMT

People in the aviation community say FAA regulations are written in blood. The new Duty and Rest Rules are no exception. While they were not created as a direct result of the Colgan crash in Buffalo, that accident brought forth a large amount of media attention to the realities of being an airline pilot (especially the realities of being a pilot that can’t afford an apartment because they make minimum wage). These new rules should have been created a long time ago.

In the past, pilots could be scheduled to fly a max of 8 hours per day (extendable by weather or maintenance) while being on duty for a max of 16 hours. Minimum rest time was 8 hours, which did not include the time it takes to for transportation to and from the hotel.

The new rules, which went into effect January 4th of this year, are science based and factor in flight time, flight duty time and rest time. They take into account how many legs or flight segments are flown per day as well as the time of day the pilot begins working. Scheduled flight time has been increased to 9 hours depending on the time of day while maximum flight duty time has been reduced to 14 hours and even less depending on the time of day the pilot reports for duty as well as the number of legs the pilot is scheduled to fly. Rest is also increased to 10 hours, which is the only part of the regulation that is up to railroad standards.

This new rule, although a huge step in the right direction, is not without its shortcomings.

Due to pilots not being able to be on duty as long each day, the work days have become less productive. This requires the airline to staff more pilots, but it also means the crews are away from home for longer periods of time for the same or less pay. Although, the new rules are based on scientific findings, they do not take into account the quality of sleep at home versus away from home. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say sleeping in my own bed is significantly better than away from home, regardless of the quality of the hotel.

One of the things I find frustrating about these new rules is they don’t get rid of one of the most dangerous types of trips. Each airline calls them something different: high-speeds, illegals, stand-ups, the graveyard shift, or CDO’s (continuous duty overnights). These are short trips that take place overnight. The crew flies the very last flight of the night into a city and then the very first flight out early the next morning. The “overnight” is too short to be legal for rest, less than 8 hours. So the crew is “on duty” all night long, even though they’re given hotel rooms for a few short hours. The rest time starts when the pilots arrive home the following morning, until they return to the airport the next evening to do it all over again. These trips would have been illegal under the new rules, but a provision was made, allowing them to still be legal to fly. The new rules require a maximum duty period of 12 hours over night. However, if the pilot is allowed a 3 hour long block of time to sleep during the layover, they can be scheduled up to 14 hours of duty.