- What are the changes being imposed by the FAA on the scheduling of airline pilots? Do you think these changes are needed?
- What will be the impact on airline financial performance measures such as:
- System Operating Profit/Loss per Originating Passenger
- System Operating Expenses per Originating Passenger
- System Operating Expenses per Aircraft
- Passenger Revenue per Originating Passenger
- What is the impact on the complexity of scheduling airline pilots? Will the changes impact the stress associated with the job of being an airline pilot?
Airlines Brace for Big Wake-Up Call
New Federal Rules Restrict Pilots’ Hours in Cockpit, Guarantee More Rest Time Between Flights
By Susan Carey and Andy Pasztor
WSJ Jan. 2, 2014 7:07 p.m. ET
Under new rules, scheduling must factor in flights when pilots report for work late at night or early in the morning, because of possible fatigue. Associated Press
U.S. passenger airlines are bracing for the start of new federal regulations on Saturday that will guarantee their pilots more rest time and restrict the hours they can put in behind the cockpit controls.
The new regulations are the biggest rewrite of pilot flight, duty and rest rules since the advent of the jet age. Airlines, which have prepared for nearly two years, say they hope the changes don’t force new delays or cancellations. But some in the industry fear the tighter limits will exacerbate disruptions that already occur for reasons like bad weather.
“Delays incurred tomorrow will have an even greater impact than today,” Marisa Von Wieding, JetBlue Airways Corp. vice president of systems operations control, wrote in a memo to pilots this week. “Everything we know about planning for and operating in winter storms, de-ice events, spring thunderstorms, summer rolling [air-traffic control delay] programs and hurricane season will change on some level.”
The Federal Aviation Administration’s rules for the first time demand that scheduling factor in when pilots report for work late at night or early in the morning, because such flying inherently is more fatiguing. Schedules also will depend on how many takeoffs and landings are included, and whether pilots have changed one or more time zones before reporting for duty. And airlines will need to more rigorously ensure that pilots have uninterrupted rest time before flights.
In preparation, airlines have added pilots, expanded rosters of reserve pilots on call to fill vacancies in the schedule, and revamped computer programs for pilot scheduling and crew tracking.
United Continental Holdings Inc. position said it is hiring 60 to 100 pilots a month to prepare for the new duty rules and to cope with an increase in retirements. It plans to establish a desk devoted to the rest rules in its network operations center during storms and other irregular operations. All of its nearly 12,000 pilots have received training on the new regulations.
Key elements of new work and rest rules for U.S. passenger-airline pilots
- Maximum duty period from 9 to 14 hours. Current maximum is 16 hours.
- Nine hours max behind controls per duty day; eight for pilots working late night/early morning. Current limit of eight hours ‘scheduled’ flying time is often extended.
- 30 consecutive hours of scheduled rest in seven days, including 10 hours immediately prior without disruptions like travel to airport. Previous minimum: eight hours off duty in 24-hour period.
- Before flight, pilots must sign form that they are fit to perform duties. No such action now required.
(Source: Federal Aviation Administration; Air Line Pilots Association)
Virgin America, which has about 600 pilots, prepared an internal video about the new regulations that laid out a hypothetical flight from New York to San Francisco that diverted to Denver for a medical emergency. The additional two hours and 15 minutes to San Francisco would put the pilots over their daily limit, so they would have to be replaced by a new crew.
Steve Forte, Virgin America’s chief operating officer, said those were “worst-case scenarios” designed to prepare the entire company for the new regime. Mr. Forte also said the company recently formed a crew base in New York so that local pilots will be on East Coast time and therefore able to put in 13 hours of daily duty time, instead of the nine hours they would have if they were on Pacific time. He acknowledged, however, that Virgin America doesn’t know “exactly how this will play out.”
The FAA’s previous effort at such changes nearly two decades ago was stifled by airline and pilot opposition. The new rules, which run to more than 300 pages, were the result of public and congressional complaints over chronic fatigue affecting many pilots. The rules follow the February 2009 crash of a Colgan Air regional turboprop on approach to the Buffalo, N.Y., airport that killed all 49 on the plane and one on the ground. That accident was partly blamed on the poor training of the pilots, but also exposed fatigue and exhausting work schedules.
Though the new rules are more pilot friendly than the current ones in most respects, the FAA has stressed individual responsibility to get adequate rest while off duty, including for pilots who commute long distances by air before starting work. An FAA spokeswoman said the agency “has adopted a systematic approach, whereby both the carrier and the pilot accept responsibility for mitigating fatigue” and also for properly implementing the new rules.
The regulations, which exempt cargo pilots, require carriers to give pilots at least a 10-hour rest period at the start of the first leg of each duty period, with the opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Current minimum rest time is eight hours, but that can include travel time to and from hotels. Pilots also will have a block of 30 uninterrupted off-duty hours a week, a 25% bump up from existing rules.
The rules increase the maximum scheduled flight hours for pilots to nine a day, from eight currently, but only if the pilots begin working between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. For pilots of commuter airlines that typically fly shorter segments, and often have grueling schedules that run past midnight or start before dawn, the regulations establish a sliding scale of maximum consecutive work hours. Such limits can be as low as nine hours, versus, for example, 14 hours maximum for mainline crews flying transcontinental routes during the day.
“The airlines that started late” preparing for the changes “are likely those that will face the most trouble,” according to Capt. Don Wykoff, who has led anti-fatigue efforts at the Air Line Pilots Association, the nation’s largest pilot union.
The Regional Airline Association said its carriers already have boosted pilot staffing by about 5%—specifically to prepare for the new rules. Given that cushion and advances in pilot-scheduling software, “it should go pretty smoothly,” said Scott Foose, the association’s senior vice president of operations and safety. Some airlines already have phased in new computer systems.
Regional carriers tend serve smaller cities from the big airlines’ hub airports. So when a crew is going to time out, the big airline can merely cancel that round-trip flight between the hub and spoke city.
But carriers such as Southwest Airlines Co. , which primarily operates a point-to-point network around the U.S., won’t have as much flexibility, said Steve Jones, director of flight operations crew scheduling and planning.
If any of its 8,000 pilots run out of time in, say, Boise, Idaho, where Southwest has no reserve pilots, “we need to wait for another Southwest plane to get to Boise and hope [the crew] has enough time,” he said. And because the first plane is supposed to go on to, say, Oakland, “you can’t cancel it,” he said.
Dave Holtz, vice president of Delta Air Lines Inc. operations control, said he expects the new rules will cause Delta to cancel more flights at the end of the night when the crews time out than it does today. “But if we’re flying close to schedule, there should be very little noticeable difference,” he said. The consequences of the new rules probably will be more apparent “on those 50 to 60 (bad) weather days per year.”
Pilots share responsibility for their readiness under the new rules. To help them, JetBlue said it has developed an in-house crew tracking program its 2,500 pilots will use on their company-issued iPads. ALPA, the union, is offering a free app that pilots can load in their smartphones to keep track of their hours of duty and rest.