New Crew Fatigue Rules En Route

Keeping Flight Crews Awake And Passengers Safe

In recent years, airline incidents and, more seriously, deaths, have been attributed, in part, to crewmember fatigue. Early next year, the United States Federal Aviation Administration will impose new rules to help prevent crewmember fatigue and improve air traveler safety. To assist in this effort, specific crew management technology will be upgraded to help airlines comply with the new rules.

Fatigue is simply defined as weariness from mental or bodily exertion. What happens when you are tired or fatigued? If you are like most people, you experience delayed reaction times, your decision–making capability is reduced or impaired, your attention span is reduced, you are not completely aware of your surroundings, and you are not able to perform at your best.

In aviation, fatigue is an especially dangerous condition. A flight crewmember could fall asleep during flight. However, even if a crewmember is awake but not truly alert, important procedures may not be followed completely or errors may occur during takeoffs and landings as well as in the air.

Three types of fatigue identified by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (U.S. FAA) are:

  1. Transient — This type of fatigue occurs when there is either extreme sleep restriction or extended hours awake within one or two days.
  2. Cumulative — This fatigue happens when there is repeated mild sleep restriction or extended hours awake over a series of days.
  3. Circadian — This fatigue is defined as reduced performance typically during nighttime hours. Specifically, the Window of Circadian Low (WOCL) is usually between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

These fatigue categories have been incorporated into new and updated flight crewmember duty and rest requirements for passenger operations conducted under 14 CFR Part 121 for any carriers that are domestic, flag or supplemental passenger operations as issued by the U.S. FAA. These rules will go into effect Jan. 4, 2014.

While airlines involved in passenger transport are affected by these rule changes, cargo airlines can switch to the new rules at their discretion, but they are not required by the FAA to do so.

The New Rules

There are a number of key elements that are part of the new rulemaking, including:

  • Varying flight and duty requirements based on what time the pilot’s day begins,
  • Flight–time limits of eight or nine hours,
  • Flight–duty period limits,
  • 10–hour minimum rest period,
  • New cumulative flight–duty and flight–time limits,
  • Fitness for duty.

Varying Flight And Duty Requirements Based On What Time The Pilot’s Day Begins

The new rule incorporates the latest fatigue science to set different requirements for pilot flight time, duty period and rest based on the time of day pilots begin their first flights, the number of scheduled flight segments and the number of time zones they cross.

The previous rules included different rest requirements for domestic, international and unscheduled flights. Those differences were not necessarily consistent across different types of passenger flights, and they did not take into account factors such as start time and time–zone crossings. Since fatigue is a risk across these different segments, the rationale for the rule change was consistency.

Circadian Rhythm

Airline pilots often cross multiple time zones and regions of sunlight and darkness in a single day. Spending many hours awake, both night and day, they are often unable to maintain sleep patterns that correspond to the natural human circadian rhythm. This can easily lead to fatigue, reducing his or her ability to function properly.

Flight–Time Limits Of Eight Or Nine Hours

The U.S. FAA limits flight time — when the plane is moving under its own power before, during or after flight — to eight or nine hours depending on the start time of the pilot’s entire flight–duty period. However, a flight crewmember may exceed his or her flight time when unforeseen circumstances, such as weather, arise beyond the airline’s control.

Flight–Duty Period Limits

The allowable length of a flight–duty period depends on when the pilot’s day begins and the number of flight segments he or she is expected to fly. This can range from nine to 14 hours for single–crew operations. The flight–duty period begins when a flight crewmember reports for duty, with the intention of conducting a flight, and it ends when the aircraft is parked after the last flight. It includes the period of time before a flight or between flights that a pilot is working without an intervening rest period.

Flight duty includes deadhead transportation, training in an aircraft or flight simulator, and airport standby or reserve duty if these tasks occur before a flight or between flights without an intervening required rest period.

10-Hour Minimum Rest Period

The rule sets a 10–hour minimum rest period prior to the flight–duty period, a two–hour increase over the old rules. The new rule also mandates that a pilot must have an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep within the 10–hour rest period.

Nighttime Flying

The hours between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. are considered the Window of Circadian Low. During these hours, the urge to sleep is much stronger than other times in a 24-hour window, causing various levels of fatigue for night workers such as pilots.

New Cumulative Flight–Duty And Flight–Time Limits

The new rule addresses potential cumulative fatigue by placing weekly and 28–day limits on the amount of time a pilot may be assigned any type of flight duty. The rule also places 28–day and annual limits on actual flight time. It also requires that pilots have at least 30 consecutive hours free from duty on a weekly basis, a 25 percent increase over the old rules.

Fitness For Duty

The U.S. FAA expects pilots and airlines to take joint responsibility when considering if a pilot is fit for duty, including fatigue resulting from pre–duty activities such as commuting. Each flight crewmember must report for duty rested. At the beginning of each flight segment, a pilot is required to affirmatively state his or her fitness for duty. If a pilot reports he or she is fatigued and unfit for duty, the airline must remove that pilot from duty immediately.

Fatigue Risk Management System

An airline may develop an alternative way of mitigating fatigue based on scientific research and data that must be validated by the FAA and continuously monitored (see related article “Safer Skies” in Ascend). In addition, Sabre Airline Solutions® is investing in its crew management technology to assist airlines with their fatigue risk management efforts.

New To Sabre AirCentre Enterprise Operations

There are specific changes currently being made to the crew solutions within Sabre® AirCentre™ Enterprise Operations. These rules changes are included in the FAR Part 117 summary. Some of the changes that will and will not be included within the AirCentre portfolio include:

  • 117.5 Fitness for duty — This is communication between the fight crew and the airline. No changes being made.
  • 117.7 Fatigue risk management system — This is a process that can be augmented with a solution. No changes being made.
  • 117.9 Fatigue education and awareness–training program — This is an education program and is outside the scope for the crew management solutions. However, additional training events can be added in Sabre® AirCentre™ Crew Qualifier to track the qualification related to training.
  • 117.11 Flight–time limitation — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.13 Flight–duty period: Unaugmented operations — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.15 Flight–duty period: Split duty — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.17 Flight–duty period: Augmented flight crew — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.19 Flight–duty period extensions — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.21 Reserve status — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.23 Cumulative limitations — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.25 Rest period — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.27 Consecutive nighttime operations — Changes will be included in Sabre AirCentre.
  • 117.29 Emergency and government sponsored operations — No Changes to Sabre AirCentre.

Capt. Chesley "Sully" on pilot fatigue

Sabre Airline Solutions has taken a flexible approach to the implementation of the new FAR 117 changes that are distinguishable from the old FAR 121 rules. In addition, scheduled early implementations will alleviate the need for airlines to upgrade the night before the rules take effect.

U.S.–based passenger airlines using the crew solutions within Sabre AirCentre will be prepared for the new duty and rest requirements implemented by the FAA on Jan 4. As always, both passenger and crewmember safety remain the top priority for the aviation industry.