Ensuring that all pilots receive adequate rest is key to maintaining a safe aviation system. The rules on pilot flight time and rest have evolved along with advances in commercial air travel. The FAA is confident that, overall, the airline industry complies with the FAA’s current rules. The FAA proposed updating the rules in 1995 but an industry consensus was not achieved. The current rules are fundamentally sound but the FAA remains open to any new research or data on fatigue that would assist the agency with developing a new proposal.
Regulations limiting flight time and pilot rest have been in place since the 1940s. Current FAA regulations impose an eight-hour limit for a pilot’s flight time during a 24-hour period, provided the pilot has had at least eight continuous hours of rest during the 24-hour period. If a pilot’s actual rest is less than nine hours in the 24-hour period, the next rest period must be lengthened to provide for the appropriate compensatory rest. The rules do not address the amount of time pilots can be on duty (standby time). Airline rules may be even stricter than FAA regulations if the issue is part of a collective bargaining agreement.
FAA denies ATA/RAA request
The FAA denied requests made on June 12, 2001 on behalf of the Air Transport Association (ATA) and Regional Airline Association (RAA) to stay all agency action regarding a Nov. 20, 2000 letter of interpretation and May 17 Federal Register notice regarding pilot flight time and rest. The FAA’s letter and Federal Register notice were consistent with the agency’s long-standing interpretation of the current rules. The documents were consistent with the statutory mandate to issue rules governing the maximum hours or periods of service, the use of plain language in regulations and the regulatory history of the rules.
On Sept. 5, 2001 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted a motion by the ATA to stay the May 17, 2001 Federal Register notice. The court ruled in favor of the FAA.
May 17, 2001 Federal Register notice
The FAA published a notice in the Federal Register on May 17, 2001 to reiterate its long-standing interpretation of its pilot flight time and rest rules. The notice informed airlines and flight crewmembers of the FAA’s intent to enforce its rules in accordance with the interpretation. Each flight crewmember must have a minimum of eight hours of rest in any 24-hour period that includes flight time. If a pilot’s actual rest was less than nine hours in the 24-hour period, the next rest period must be lengthened to provide for the appropriate compensatory rest. The FAA did not anticipate that the notice would result in major disruptions to airline schedules. It stated that, beginning in November 2001, the FAA would review airline flight scheduling practices and deal stringently with violations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted a stay of the notice on this focused enforcement effort.
Nov. 20, 2000 FAA letter
On Nov. 20, 2000, the FAA responded to a letter from the Allied Pilots Association that set forth specific scenarios that could affect a very small number of all commercial pilots.
The FAA’s response was consistent with the agency’s long-standing interpretation of the current rules. In summary, the FAA reiterated that each flight crewmember must have a minimum of eight hours of rest in any 24-hour period that includes flight time. If a pilot’s actual rest was less than nine hours in the 24-hour period, the next rest period must be lengthened to provide for the appropriate compensatory rest.
June 15, 1999 Federal Register notice
In response to concerns raised by the pilot community, the FAA Administrator notified the aviation community on June 15, 1999 that it had six months to ensure that it was in full compliance with the agency’s current flight time and rest requirements. Reviews of airline scheduling practices conducted in December 1999 and discussions with pilot unions and airlines confirmed that the vast majority of pilots were receiving the amount of rest required by the FAA’s rule.
In July 1998, the FAA Administrator asked the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) to work with the industry to reach a consensus and develop a new proposal. If no consensus could be reached, the FAA would subsequently enforce the current regulations. In February 1999, ARAC reported that there was no consensus in the aviation community. The group offered five different proposals to update the flight and rest regulations.
In 1995, the FAA proposed a rule to change flight time and rest limits. 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. Highlights of the 1995 proposal:
- Reduce the number of duty hours (the time a flight crewmember is on the job, available to fly) from the current 16 hours to 14 hours for two-pilot crews. It would have allowed up to 10 flight hours in the 14 duty hours. Current rules allow up to 16 hours continuous duty time.
- Additional duty hours would be permitted only for unexpected operational problems, such as flight delays. In no event could such delays add more than two hours to the pilot’s duty day.
- Airlines could no longer schedule pilots in advance in a manner that exceed the duty time.
- To ensure that pilots have an adequate opportunity to rest, off-duty time would be increased from eight hours to 10 hours under the proposal.
- Pilots would have to be given at least one 36-hour off-duty period every seven days. Current rules call for a 24-hour period.