October 2009

FAA Issues Recommendations Concerning Fatigue Countermeasures in Part 121 and 135 Short-Haul Operations

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Judy R. Nemsick | Marc L. Antonecchia

As discussed in the August 2008 edition of Centerline, the issue of pilot fatigue has been on the NTSB’s “Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements” for more than a decade. Although the FAA has issued guidance in the past, more concrete measures appear to be in the works. On September 11, 2009, the FAA issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO)1 recommending that Part 121 and 135 operators review their current policies and procedures addressing short-haul crewmember fatigue countermeasures. The SAFO does not direct any mandatory action. Instead, its purpose is to “provide insights to operators and crew for mitigating fatigue.”

Current regulations generally allow continuous duty periods of up to 16 hours. The SAFO recognizes that there are unique elements to short-haul operations that may contribute to fatigue, including “high workload.” For instance, short-haul schedules tend to involve multiple flights, including as many as four to five segments in a 13- to 15-hour duty day.

Following prior FAA guidance on the issue, the SAFO states that both certificate holders and pilots have responsibility to ensure “effective sleep opportunities.” The SAFO urges certificate holders to be proactive in minimizing exposure to fatigue-related incidents or accidents, and recommends that certificate holders engage in a review that addresses, at minimum, the following areas:

  • current scheduling practices
  • scheduled or assigned rest periods
  • rest-enhancing prerequisites for layover city hotels
  • flight crew rest facilities between flights
  • education of pilots and crew on the importance of proper rest and taking advantage of rest facilities

The SAFO also notes that pilots “should understand their responsibility with regard to ensuring that they achieve the required rest so they are properly rested and fit for each assigned or scheduled flight.”

Future FAA Rulemaking

The SAFO is likely only one of several steps in the FAA’s ongoing effort to address fatigue. By specifically addressing short-haul operations, the FAA may be signaling that a “one rule fits all” approach to both short-haul and long-haul operations must be reconsidered, given the differences between those types of operations. Indeed, in a June 2009 fact sheet entitled “Pilot Flight Time, Rest and Fatigue,”2 the FAA recognized that short-haul, long-haul, and multi-leg flights each present their own challenges, and specifically noted its current work with airlines to gather data to help the agency enhance the safety requirements for “ultra long-range flights.”

The FAA appears to be moving toward proposed new regulations concerning flight and duty times. In a June 15, 2009 “Call to Action,” the FAA announced that it “will start rulemaking to rewrite the rules for pilot flight and duty time to incorporate recent scientific research about the factors that lead to fatigue.”3 The following month, the FAA chartered an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) consisting of representatives from the FAA and industry and labor organizations. The ARC submitted non-public recommendations to the FAA on September 1, 2009 concerning proposed rulemaking on pilot flight and duty time. According to a memorandum issued by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the FAA may publish a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before the end of the year.4

1 Safety Alert for Operators, SAFO 09014, “Concepts for Fatigue Countermeasures in Part 121 and 135 Short-Haul Operations,” September 11, 2009.

FAA Fact Sheet, “Pilot Flight Time, Rest, and Fatigue,” June 10, 2009.

FAA Press Release, “Call to Action Leads to Improvements in Pilot Training and Better Access to Pilot Records,” June 15, 2009.

Memorandum of U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, September 21, 2009. 

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