One Level of Safety
- In the wake of the tragic 2009 Colgan Air crash that killed 50 people, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act requiring the FAA to develop science based pilot rest and duty rules to address problems relating to pilot fatigue.
- In 2010, Congress recognized the effects of pilot fatigue and directed the FAA to issue science-based flight-and-duty rules and minimum rest requirements for ALL airline pilots, was predicated on a “science-based fix”, not cost modeling.
- FAR Part 117, enacted January 2014, was the first major revision to pilot rest and duty limits in more than 60 years. The regulations are based on scientific knowledge of the effects of fatigue, sleep and circadian rhythms on the human body. Cargo pilots were included when the regulations were originally proposed by the FAA, but the White House ordered the agency to remove them.
- The idea that an “exemption” providing all-cargo carriers to “opt in – or – out” of this new rule fails to meet the mandate of “One Level of Safety”.
- Fatigue, in part, is a function of circadian rhythms. All factors being equal, fatigue is most likely, and, when present, most severe, between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. (known as the window of circadian low or WOCL). Other factors impacting sleep and subsequent alertness include: flying across multiple time zones, daytime sleeping and day-to-night or night-to-day transitions. These types of operations, particularly nighttime flying and around-the-world operations, are the norm for all-cargo carriers. Cargo pilots are routinely operating aircraft under the most fatigue inducing conditions and are not afforded the protection of scientifically based duty and rest regulations. Simply put, the pilots that need the most protection from fatigue have been excluded from FAR Part 117.
- Pilots are subject to the same biological principles regardless of the type of air carrier operations.
- Fatigue factors are universal, regardless of whether the pilot is flying for a cargo or passenger airline; a pilot IS a pilot. Both cargo and passenger pilots operate the same types of aircraft, operate in the same airspace, share the same runways, taxiways, and instrument approach systems; the aviation system is fully integrated. Fatigue can have devastating effects on the performance of a pilot. A cargo aircraft accident will not be self-contained; it will impact other aircraft, property and/or people. Millions of Americans who fly, and the many more who live under the flight paths of cargo airliners, are threatened by the effects of fatigue.
- Would you have separate fatigue rules or drinking and driving rules for school bus drivers and tractor trailer operators sharing the same roadways? Would it make sense to allow a truck driver to drive while impaired by fatigue on the same highway as a school bus driving children home from school and jeopardizing their safety? Why would we allow cargo pilots potentially impaired by fatigue to operate in the same skies as a passenger aircraft putting the flying public at risk?
- Eight months after the implementation of FAR Part 117, which excluded cargo operations, the National Transportation Safety Board reported the findings of its investigation into the 2013 crash of a cargo plane in Birmingham, Ala., which killed two crew members. The NTSB, in part, blamed pilot fatigue for the crash. The cockpit voice recorder captured the plane’s crew discussing how tired they were just before the doomed flight took off.
- While FAR 117 is a significant improvement; excluding cargo operations creates two standards for commercial aviation. Attempting to manage TWO separate systems for the same airspace degrades overall safety and increases risk for the public.
- There must be industry standard rules that provide safe transportation services regardless of the cargo in the rear of the aircraft.
- The final rule creates a “second tier” of safety that is unacceptable and runs counter to the Flight and Duty Time recommendation.
- All commercial aircraft share the same taxiways, runways air corridors, and approaches, the system is fully integrated. A cargo aircraft accident will not be self- contained; it will impact other aircraft, property and/or people.
“One Level of Safety” for all commercial aviation was the genesis for federal legislation in 2010 for several airline safety issues determined to be in need of strong regulation. In all of its efforts, Congress was clear – there must not be separate standards for regional, major, passenger or cargo carriers.