How Much Rest Should Pilots Get?

Last Updated Sep 29, 2009 10:37 AM EDT

Jockeying continues as everyone wants to have their say around the big issue of how much rest pilots should get. Several industry groups have banded together to propose some changes and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has weighed in as well. They both appear to agree on a basic structure, but it's the actual number that is up for debate.

As you might expect, the industry is pushing for less stringent regulation (duh) since it helps their bottom line. But both sides agree that any new rules should take into account both the number of flight segments and the time of day in determining duty times.

Let's just look at flying that doesn't have reserve pilots (shorter flying). Currently, the rule is that pilots can be on duty for up to 16 hours in a 24 hour period, but in that period they can't fly more than 8 actual hours.

Both the new industry proposal and the ALPA proposal would cap duty time at a max of 13 hours, but in some cases it wouldn't be able to exceed 9 hours. Pilots who begin their duty day in the middle of the night would be capped at 9 hours because it goes against normal circadian rhythm. Then it slowly climbs as the duty time enters normal business hours. Pilots coming on duty between 7a and 1p would be allowed to work the max of 13 hours, still a 3 hour decline from today's standard.

But there's another piece here as well. If the pilot flies many segments, then the number of hours allowed on duty drops as well. For example, those pilots coming on duty between 7a and 1p would only be allowed to be on duty for 11.5 hours if they have 7 segments under the industry proposal. ALPA suggests a cap of 11 hours. It's much more taxing on a pilot to have multiple segments than it is to sit up in the air for hours on end.

The proposals also include flying time limits, and there's where the biggest chasm is. Flying limits would be a mere 2 hours less than the duty time limit under the industry proposal. So while today someone can be on for 16 hours and fly 8, this would allow for someone to be on for 13 hours but fly 11. Meanwhile, the ALPA proposal would allow no more than 9 hours of flying when coming on duty between 7a and 1p with no more than 7 hours if it's overnight.

Ultimately, the FAA will have to put together a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and the process to actually change the current rules will officially begin. While I don't know what numbers are really the right ones, I do think the structure of the proposal makes a fair bit of sense. Any pilots out there care to have their say?