Today's Question: How should the FAA's rules concerning pilots' rest, work schedules look?

Thursday, November 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Federal Aviation Administration is changing its rules dealing with the amount of time pilots can be on duty and how long they must rest.

Fatigue likely played a role in the February crash of a Continental Airlines flight near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50 people. The night before the accident the co-pilot took the red-eye from Seattle to get to the job out of Newark Liberty International Airport. Long commutes to work often further lengthen pilots' work days, and recent reductions in the number of flights many carriers offer have resulted in pilots having to catch even earlier flights to their next locations.

The administration last developed a proposal updating its rules dealing with pilot fatigue in 1995. However, the proposal was not passed because of the negative reaction with which they were received by the industry. Included in that proposal was reducing the 16 continuous hours pilots can be on duty, eight of which they can be flying, to 14 hours on duty, 10 of which could be spent in the air. The new rules would also have increased pilots' off-duty time from eight to 10 hours to give them more time to rest, extended the minimum off-duty period from 24 hours to 36 hours per week and stopped airlines from scheduling pilots in advance to supersede the duty time limits. The FAA asked the Aviation Advisory Rule Committee to develop a new proposal to update the rules in 1998, but another lack of agreement within the aviation industry blocked alterations.

In 2006, the FAA worked with Delta Air Lines' flights between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Mumbai, India to create a model for techniques to reduce fatigue. The FAA tried to make this model part of the operations specification operations specification for Delta, American Airlines and Continental Airlines' long flights but revoked the plan this March after hearing the carriers' comments.

The regulator will propose the new rules by the end of the year. Current drafts show that pilots' time at work could decrease, but pilots could potentially spend more time in the air.

What should the FAA's updated rules dealing with pilots' rest and work schedules look like?

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