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Thu, Dec 03, 2009

FAA's Gilligan Testifies On Pilot Fatigue Before Senate Subcommittee

Says New NPRM On Pilot Fatigue Is Being Developed "As Quickly As Possible"

FAA Associate Administrator Peggy Gilligan testified Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security, addressing the issue of pilot fatigue. In her testimony, she said mitigating pilot fatigue is the responsibility of the Administration, air carriers, and the pilots themselves.

“This hearing examines the important issue of aviation safety and pilot fatigue, and what can be done to ensure the flight crews are well-rested and prepared," said subcommittee Chair Byron Dorgan (D-ND). "I want to make certain the FAA moves forward expeditiously on bringing their time and duty rules into the 21st century.  And the FAA must do the necessary work to ensure any rules or guidelines address the systemic problems in our national air transportation system that contribute to fatigue.”

Gilligan said the FAA has undertaken a number of efforts to address the issue over the past 14 years, starting in 1995.  "(T)he FAA proposed a rule to change flight time and rest limits," she said. "The agency received more than 2,000 comments from the aviation community and the public. Most of those comments did not favor the rule as proposed, and there was no clear consensus on what the final rule should say. The FAA recently withdrew this proposed rule because it will be superseded by the current rulemaking effort."

She went on to cite a 2008 FAA fatigue symposium, which she said encouraged the aviation community to proactively address aviation fatigue management issues, as well as a pilot program undertaken in 2006 by the FAA with Delta Airlines to "develop and approve fatigue mitigation for flights between John F. Kennedy International Airport and Mumbai, India. The flights were operated for more than 16 hours with four pilots provided that the airline followed an FAA-approved plan to manage rest and mitigate the risk posed by fatigue. The mitigation, approved as an Operations Specification issued to Delta Air Lines, was specific for that city pair. Although that specific route is no longer flown by Delta, the FAA viewed Delta’s fatigue mitigation strategy as a model program."

Gilligan (pictured) told the subcommittee that this year, the FAA had chartered the Flight and Duty Time Limitations and Rest Requirements Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) comprised of labor, industry, and FAA representatives.  The committee was charged with developing recommendations for an FAA rule based on current fatigue science and a thorough review of international approaches to the issue. The ARC was chartered to provide a forum for the U.S. aviation community to discuss current approaches to mitigate fatigue found in international standards and make recommendations on how the United States should modify its regulations. The ARC consisted of 18 members representing airline and labor associations, who were selected based on their extensive certificate holder management and/or direct operational experience. That committee submitted its final report to the FAA on September 10.

Gilligan said based on those recommendations, the FAA is working "as quickly as possible" to develop a new NPRM on pilot fatigue. "I will readily acknowledge that this effort has been difficult, and has taken us longer than we wanted or expected," she said. "The events of the last 15 years evidence the complexity of the issue and the strong concerns of the parties involved, and those are clear in the current rulemaking as well. At the same time, our focused effort since June demonstrates the high priority that Administrator Babbitt and I, along with the rest of the FAA team, place on overcoming these challenges and updating these regulations to enhance safety. I am confident we will get there."

FMI: www.faa.gov

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