WASHINGTON -- The government told passenger airlines yesterday they'll have to do more to ensure pilots aren't too tired to fly, nearly three years after the deadly western New York crash of a regional airliner flown by two exhausted pilots.
The Federal Aviation Administration's update of airline pilot work rules, some of which go back to the 1960s, reflects a better understanding of the need for rest and how night shifts and traveling through time zones can increase errors.
"This is a big deal," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "This is as far as our government has ever gone" to protect the traveling public from pilot fatigue.
Carriers have two years to adapt to the new rules. The FAA estimated the cost to the industry at $297 million over 10 years.
Safety advocates have been urging the FAA for over two decades to update pilot work rules. Those efforts were revived after the February 2009 crash near Buffalo that killed 50 people.
The rules would limit the maximum time a pilot can be scheduled to be on duty -- including wait time before flights and administrative duties -- to between nine and 14 hours. The total depends on the time of day pilots begin their first flight and the number of time zones crossed.
The maximum amount of time pilots can be scheduled to fly is limited to eight or nine hours, and pilots would get a minimum of 10 hours to rest between duty periods, a two-hour increase over the old rules. The minimum amount of time off between workweeks will be increased 25 percent, and there will be new limits on how many hours per month pilots can fly. Pilots flying overnight would be allowed fewer hours than pilots flying during the day.
But cargo carriers, which do much of their flying overnight, are exempted from the rules.