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22 December 2011

FAA to announce final pilot fatigue rule

Washington (CNN) -- Passengers nodding off while on commercial flights soon may get more assurance that the pilots aren't doing the same thing.

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to announce details Wednesday of the final pilot fatigue rule governing how much time off pilots have between work periods.
Under the proposed rule unveiled in the fall of 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration suggested a nine-hour minimum opportunity for rest prior to working -- one hour more then is currently mandated. It also set weekly and monthly limits on the number of work hours to address cumulative fatigue.

The DOT said the proposal was science based and would significantly increase public safety.
The rule has been a long time coming. In the mid 1990s, the FAA tried to update its flight and duty time regulations, but it withdrew its rule under opposition from airlines.
Momentum for change increased following the February 12, 2009, crash of Continental flight 3407 near Buffalo, New York, which killed 50 people.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that pilot fatigue contributed to the crash, although they said it could not be attributed solely to fatigue. The hearing, though, spotlighted the practice among some pilots to commute lengthy distances to their jobs. The pilot of Colgan Air 3407 commuted from Tampa, Florida, and the co-pilot commuted from Seattle, Washington, to their base in Newark, New Jersey.

It is expected that the rule being finalized Wednesday also will attempt to bring order to the current complex set of rules which differ for domestic, international and unscheduled flights. While tightening some rules, the proposed rule will also relax others, reflecting the latest scientific information.

Experts say fatigue not only increases the chances that a pilot will fall asleep, as happened to two Go! airline pilots flying over Hawaii in 2008, but it can impact pilots' performance and decision making ability, experts say. Fatigue can cause lapses of attention, delayed reaction, impaired logical reasoning, reduced situational awareness, and low motivation to perform optional activities, the DOT says.

In the case of the Go! incident, the pilots were cruising at 21,000 feet over Hawaii when they fell asleep. They flew 26 miles past their destination before waking up, contacting air traffic controllers, and landing safely.