As a result of previous events, countermeasures and rules are placed to prevent pilot fatigue. FAA regulations control the number of hours crew members are able to perform their duties. Continue reading to learn what the FAA is doing to help avoid pilot fatigue.
On February 12, 2009, a Bombardier Q400 near Buffalo, New York, rolled 105 degrees to the right, tumbling into the ground. Many factors played into the tragic Colgan Air Flight 3407 incident, though the final report mentions that pilot fatigue likely affected the flight deck situation. The captain, who worked the previous day, had been seen spending the night in the crew room and logged into the company system, indicating poor rest. And the first officer flew through the night, commuting from Seattle to Newark, before finding a spot in the crew room.
Changes to pilot history information access, upset prevention and recovery training, crew fatigue regulations, and more were all tied to this unfortunate accident. But what countermeasures are currently in place, and what are the current rules to prevent pilot fatigue?
An overview of related FAA regulations
According to 14 CFR Section 135.267, program managers may not assign crew members for more than 8 hours of flight time for one pilot or 10 hours for two. At the same time, a whole duty period cannot exceed 14 hours, and all crew members should receive a minimum rest time of 10 hours before and after each duty period. Flight time extensions of an hour or two are allowed if they stay within the duty period, though after duty, rest periods get extended as a result.
Further increases to flight hours and rest are allowed for flights that cross five or more time zones and those with three or four pilots. And suppose a pilot exceeds their flight time limit for reasons beyond anyone’s control, such as weather. In that case, crewmembers are allowed between 11 and 16 hours of rest for flight time increases ranging from a few minutes to over an hour.
Regulations also prevent pilots from overworking during a month, quarter, or year. Program managers can only assign crewmembers if their total commercial flight time does not exceed 500 hours for a calendar quarter, 800 in two consecutive quarters, or 1,400 hours for a whole year. Altogether these rules limit flight hours to 60 during seven days, but “off-duty” includes time commuting, eating, etc., and pilots with odd flight times four or five days in a row may be tired throughout the week.
Other fatigue countermeasures and new rules for flight attendants
In the winter of 2011, the FAA published a short document about final rules concerning pilot fatigue, which included some of the regulations mentioned above, but also mentioned Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS). Airlines are strongly encouraged to develop individual, data-driven methods of reducing fatigue. Some notable examples include an FRMS from Singapore Airlines in 2003, once they began flying an A340 between Singapore Changi and Newark Liberty International. Or easyJet’s sequence of five early starts – two days off or five late starts – four days off, instead of the previous three early starts – three late starts – three days off.