WASHINGTON – Obama administration officials said yesterday they will propose new limits on how many hours airline pilots can fly in an effort to curb pilot fatigue, an issue safety officials have been urging action on for two decades.
Randy Babbitt, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, said he will propose the new rule in the next several months.
Babbitt, a former airline pilot who has been at the FAA only a few weeks, said the issue is complicated because a pilot flying fewer hours with more takeoffs and landings will probably experience more fatigue than a pilot on a longer flight with only one takeoff and one landing.
“The bottom line is I’m going to want a new rule,” said Babbitt, who was accompanied by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a media briefing.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been urging the FAA for 19 years to strengthen regulations on pilot hours. The FAA proposed a new rule in 1995, but action stalled after pilot unions and industry disagreed on the proposal.
The unions wanted to reduce the number of hours pilots can be on duty and increase time off between flights, while airlines opposed the changes.
“It’s money,” said Dave Ross, a trustee for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents pilot unions at six regional airlines. “If you can’t fly a pilot as long as you do today, then that increases your cost.”
David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transportation Association declined to comment, saying it would be premature since no rule has yet been proposed. FAA regulations generally limit pilots to no more than 16 hours on duty and eight hours of scheduled flight time.