Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No Rest for the Weary

As usual, when the government says I'm here to help you, check your six, check your wallet and look around for an open window. Their intentions may be good, but in my opinion, more often than not they make your life more complicated than if they had left you alone. Such may be the case with the new fatigue rules. And as usual you need to hire an attorney to interpret them.

The big change is pilots will now have 10 hours minimum rest. That's up from nine. Click here for details. That’s better than nothing I suppose, but then there's this: if you report for duty between 0500 and 1959, (that's “Way-too-Early” and “End of Happy Hour” for us Air Force types) you can fly nine (9) hours un-augmented (basic 2 person crew). That's down from the previous rule, which was eight (8). So, you see there's good news and bad news. And it's worse than you think. Here's why.

An east-bound Atlantic crossing from the upper East Coast to Western Europe typically takes less than 8 hours, but the return, which is against the winds, takes more than eight. Therefore airlines use a relief pilot, which allows them to fly longer, even though they don't need the relief pilot for the goin' over leg. Now they may not need one for the coming home leg either. 

See what's coming? Or rather, what's going? Going out, that is—relief pilot. Yes, soon when you go to western Europe you may have only two pilots up front the whole way. This is the manna from heaven airline companies have waited for. Now, not only can they shed themselves of some of those pesky pilots, they can sell an extra seat, because a rest seat for pilots won't be needed.

But, you say, so what? I work 8-9 hours about every day. Yep, going to London with two pilots is pretty easy; further east destinations are a little harder but doable. Here's the rub: those trips typically don't start until late afternoon or evening. So, 8-10 hours after being up since your normal get-up time you start work. The most demanding part of your flight, the approach, occurs at about 0200 on your body clock, and you have not had a rest break. 

And coming back from Europe we usually start out at about 0100 on our body lock. How about pulling a nine hour shift with no rest and no break after getting up an hour after mid-night?

Incidents of pilot deviations will go up. Somebody will pay for this change, and the price might be enormous.

If any of you Mach-Rangers think I've mis-interpreted this or gotten my facts wrong, sound off.

"A-RAAAH, A-RAAAH, A-RAAAH! A stinking beeper, the loneliest and most pitiful cry in the world."
--Jack Broughton, Thud Ridge


Wild Blue said...

You're not telling the whole story - you couldn't do a 9 hour flight back unless you were acclimated. You need to also talk about FDP, they are a big part of the new rules too.

Cedarglen said...

Great post, Alan. I saw the FAA's original yesterday and scanned it thoroughly, reading the important parts. (They use too many butt-covering words.) I wondered how long it would take for an active Pilot to speak up. It may do some good (for pilots) on some NON-North-Atlantic routes, but where is mosts of the traffic? North-Atlantic! I don't like it. I want that 3rd pilot on the NA crossings, if only to give the Landing Pilot Flying some interim rest before the most important part of his/her job. Some will say that the typical late PM departures are not relevant; pilots have aleady had enough rest. Nuts! Getting up at 0700 and starting work at 1600 is not a great idea when the serious work comes at 0200, as you have noted.
There are some improvements in this rule, but I think it will be revised before long. Statistics be damned, seriously long flights and ocean crossings need at least a third pair of hands, perhaps a fourth. Government is slow and a revision will take a while. The responsible carrier will keep the relief pilot; the cheapies won't. I may start asking about this whe I book a Trans-Atlantic seat. -C.

Cedarglen said...

A short addendum: How many times have I heard it said, "Legal does NOT always mean Safe"? Let's first of all keep it safe. To heck with the labor issues. That kind of 'safe' means to the PIC's satisfaction, since there is a 65% chance that s/he will make the terminal landing. Duh?

Anonymous said...

The big change is ...... for us Air Force types) you can fly nine (9) hours un-augmented (basic 2 person crew). That's ((UP!!!)) from the previous rule, which was eight (8).

Thanks for a great, as always, a great blog.

Box Boy said...

These rules also apply differently to cargo operators. Fatigue affects all pilots.

Maybe the thinking was that there is less loss of life (besides crew) with a freighter loss. Tell that to someone who lives under the approach path.

From the FedEx MEC:

AA278 said...

I assume then that the new rules would apply to both domestic AND international? I'm retired and haven't been following the issue closely.

capnaux said...

Good points, Bas. Gonna have to inspect this dubious rule change more closely...