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New FAA rules give pilots more rest between shifts

By Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Commercial airline pilots will be entitled to shorter shifts and longer rests under a new set of rules issued Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The new rules, described by the agency as a “sweeping” overhaul of the way commercial airline pilots’ shifts are scheduled, won’t take effect for two years.

They were sparked in part by the February 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407. The plane stalled and crashed over western New York, killing 50 people. Pilot error was determined to be the cause of the crash.

The rules update 1960s-era regulations to reflect the latest research on how fatigue and travel through time zones can affect performance.

“This is a major safety achievement,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue.”

The new rules limit to between nine and 14 hours the amount of time a pilot can be kept on duty without a rest. Pilots will be allowed to fly a maximum of eight or nine hours at a time, and they will be entitled to rest periods of at least 10 hours, up from eight hours under the old rules. Within the rest period, pilots must have the opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The FAA estimates that it will cost the industry $297 million to implement the new rules, but that the rules will save $247 million to $470 million. The rules apply only to commercial passenger carriers. Applying them to cargo operators would have been too costly, the FAA said.

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