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FAA won’t delay limiting pilots to 16-hour days

SHARE FAA won’t delay limiting pilots to 16-hour days

DALLAS — The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday rejected requests from two airline associations to delay enforcement of rules that limit pilots to 16 hours a day, delays included.

The FAA has given the industry until mid-November to adjust its schedules to follow the FAA's interpretation of pilot flight time and rest rules. Federal rules allow pilots to work 16 hours a day, eight of them actually flying a plane. The FAA has said it will start cracking down on violations.

"While we of course recognize the public interest in not having business trips, vacations, and other trips delayed or canceled, that interest is heavily outweighed by the public interest in aviation safety, which would be seriously compromised by operations with fatigued flight crew members," FAA General Counsel David G. Leitch said in a letter to attorneys for the Air Transport Association and the Regional Airline Association.

The two groups had asked the FAA to stay action on its interpretation and on its May 14 notice of enforcement. Messages left with both associations were not immediately returned.

"Flights are delayed or canceled when operating the aircraft would violate other safety rules, including aircraft maintenance rules, and the FAA sees no reason to distinguish these safety rules over others," Leitch said.

Leitch noted that the ATA and RAA said other rules and contract provisions deal with pilot fatigue and that a stay would not affect those other rules. The RAA cited a rule that would guard against dangers of pilot fatigue.

Airline officials have argued that the FAA's action could force flights to be delayed longer or canceled.

"When you pushed off the gate, if you were projected to land within 16 hours, you could continue the flight," AirTran Airlines president Joe Leonard has said. "Now, if you haven't taken off and your flight is now projected to go beyond 16 hours, you're going to have to return to the gate, and there's not likely to be a crew there. It's likely to turn into a gate return and a cancellation."