Urge FAA to Focus on Commuting Practices, Regional Airline Pilot Scheduling, Adherence to Congressional Timelines
Buffalo, New York- December 1, 2010 – The ‘Families of Continental Flight 3407’ continued their push for a true ‘One Level of Safety’ between mainline and regional airlines by submitting their formal comments to the FAA’s recently proposed new rulemaking on pilot flight and duty times. They called for more aggressive action on the serious issue of fatigue caused by pilot commuting practices, and challenged the FAA and Administrator Randy Babbitt to issue a final fatigue rule by the August 1, 2011 deadline imposed by Congress. (The comment submitted by the group to the FAA is included below.)
“We continue to aim all of our efforts towards putting pilots at the regional airline level in the best possible situation when it comes to safety,” stated Karen Eckert, of Williamsville, New York, who lost her sister, prominent 9/11 widow and activist Beverly Eckert, on Flight 3407. “The way that regional pilots are currently scheduled, with early morning report times, numerous takeoffs and landings in a sixteen hour duty day, and then the bare minimum rest window before another early morning report, makes completing this rulemaking absolutely imperative for the safety of the traveling public. The proposals to reduce the duty day to thirteen hours, with further reductions based on report time and number of legs flown, as well as increasing the pilot’s daily rest period, will be significant steps towards limiting pilot fatigue at the regional airline level.”
As part of its focus on the specific factors that contributed to the crash of Flight 3407, the group pressed the FAA to take more meaningful action than currently proposed in the problematic area of pilot commuting.
“We must do everything possible to keep this issue in the public eye, as we know that the airlines, pilots, and FAA would clearly prefer for commuting to fade into the background,” declared John Kausner of Clarence Center, New York, who lost his twenty-four year old daughter Ellyce. “The recently-signed legislation that we pushed so hard for calls for two studies on the current state of commuting, and directs Administrator Babbitt to take action on the findings and recommendations that come forth from these reports. Again, the interests of the traveling public and safety demand that the FAA take significant steps to reduce the risks created by pilot commuting.”
Most importantly, the group continued to press the FAA to meet the August 1st deadline for this rulemaking, as well as all the timelines prescribed by Congress in PL 111-216, the landmark aviation safety legislation that was passed by Congress and signed into law back in August. The National Transportation Safety Board has been pushing for the new fatigue guidelines, which it currently rates as number one on its ‘Most Wanted List’ of safety recommendations, for over twenty years, and recently endorsed the FAA’s proposal.
“The NTSB has been pushing for FAA action not only on pilot fatigue, but on so many other safety issues that needlessly contributed to this tragedy, long before this took place,” stated Scott Maurer of Moore, South Carolina, who lost his thirty year old daughter Lorin. “While it is absolutely devastating that it took the highly preventable loss of Lorin and forty-nine others to finally get some action to be taken, we are determined to ensure that the provisions in this legislation, which will prevent a tragedy like this from being allowed to happen again, are implemented in accordance with the deadlines set by Congress. As August 1st approaches, Administrator Babbitt can be sure that we will be very closely following this and the other rulemakings that the American flying public is counting on him and his agency to complete.”
FAMILIES OF CONTINENTAL FLIGHT 3407’ – SUBMITTED COMMENT ON PILOT FLIGHT AND DUTY TIME PROPOSAL
November 15, 2010
Attn: Docket No. FAA-2009-1093
Dear Sir or Madam:
Please accept this comment on the Notice of Proposed Rule Making FAA-2009-1093 on behalf of the ‘Families of Continental Flight 3407’. The members of our group suffered a devastating loss on February 12, 2009, when Continental Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air, crashed into a home in Clarence Center, New York, taking the lives of all forty nine people and an unborn child on board, as well as one man on the ground.
Since then our group, representing the families of thirty-five of the victims and including one hundred fifty of their dearest families and friends, have tirelessly fought to achieve two goals. First, that the specific issues that contributed to this needless and avoidable tragedy be addressed in a decisive manner, and secondly, to push for the achievement of a true ‘One Level of Safety’ between all major and regional carriers. Sadly, our loved ones were victimized by a regional airline that made a significantly lesser commitment to, and investment in, the best training and safety management programs than the major airline who sold them their tickets.
In evaluating this Notice of Proposed Rule Making on Flight and Duty Times, we focus on the two criteria listed above. Specific to our accident, there is no doubt in our minds that fatigue played a role in the pilots’ improper response to the circumstances that manifested that evening. However, this fatigue was not a result of an excessively long duty day or an inadequate rest period in the middle of the pilots’ schedule; specifically the first officer was flying her first flight on her initial day of duty. Rather we attribute our pilots’ fatigue to the issue of commuting, one which we sadly view as the industry’s ‘dirty secret’, a practice which neither the airlines nor the pilot unions nor the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have shown any true desire to address.
Looking at this proposal, we do not feel that it comes close to effectively mitigating the potential hazards of pilot commuting. However, we do acknowledge that there currently is a lack of baseline knowledge on the prevalence and other dimensions of this practice. In recognition of this, PL 111-216, ‘The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010’ contains two provisions which require the National Academy of Sciences and the FAA to gather specific information on this topic, including best practices currently employed by Part 121 carriers to reduce the risks associated with it, such as providing rest facilities for pilots at airports as well as paying for pilots’ lodging on the night prior to their initial day of duty. The law calls for the FAA to incorporate the findings from these initiatives, expected to be completed in the summer of 2011, into the current regulatory framework on fatigue. Regardless of the apathy of the airlines and labor groups towards addressing this potential safety gap, we expect the FAA to act swiftly and decisively when the time comes, and we will remain vigilant and vocal in the interim.
In regards to our second goal of closing the sometimes significant gap between training and safety practices at regional versus major airlines, we looked at how this proposal would address the many unique factors associated with regional airline operations that contribute to pilot fatigue. Many of these issues were mentioned at a recent symposium held by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on airline code-sharing arrangements and their impact on safety.
First, the current scheduling model which is based on regional airlines operating the earliest flights on a given day (to pull passengers into the major airports in our hub-and-spoke system) as well as the latest flights (to push passengers back out to spoke airports across the country), often results in regional airline pilots being stretched to the maximum allowable duty day of sixteen hours. Not only is that potentially problematic in and of itself, but when combined with an early scheduled report time on the subsequent duty day (current regulations only require an eight hour standoff which makes it impossible to get a universally-agreed upon minimum amount of rest), there is a cumulative fatigue effect which also can be dangerous.
Additionally, we have become very familiar over the past twenty-one months with the rigors of flying faced by a regional airline pilot. Namely, that flying more legs in a given day, with the associated greater number of takeoffs and landings, is a more fatiguing schedule than that of the major airline pilot who is flying fewer, longer legs and cruising for longer distances. Furthermore, regional flights are operated at lower altitudes, which introduce a higher likelihood of adverse weather conditions, again resulting in more fatiguing conditions for a regional pilot to operate in than a major pilot.
In considering these challenging workplace conditions faced by regional airline pilots, we strongly endorse the maximum thirteen hour duty day which has been put forth, as well as the allowances made for reducing a pilot’s duty period based on a greater number of legs flown as well as for earlier and later reporting times which all have potentially adverse effects on a pilot’s body and performance.
Conceptually, we also support the new requirement regarding a pilot’s minimum rest period, specifically the provision that calls for travel time between the airport and hotel to not be included in the rest period. This addresses an area which numerous pilots have cited as problematic; however, we are concerned in how this policy will be implemented and monitored. Consequently, we support the proposal that has been put forward calling for a flat ten hour rest window which will make this provision much more manageable.
The final issue that we would like to highlight is the controversial provision to extend the allowable flight time in a given day for a pilot from eight hours to ten hours. We attempted to examine any research that had been done relevant to time on task and how it degrades performance, specifically in the realm of aviation, but discovered that there is an absence of applicable science in this area. Consequently, at this time, we are unable to endorse nor reject this portion of the proposal, and we will leave it to the experts to determine the best path forward. While the reduction in duty period to thirteen hours will minimize the potential negative effects of this provision to an extent, should the current language remain unchanged, it is our hope that the issue of flying ten hours in a day would be further addressed by the carriers’ fatigue risk management plans.
The NTSB has been calling for new, science-based flight and duty time regulations for over twenty years, to no avail. The American flying public deserve so much better than that. In light of our experience, we demand that the critical issues of pilot commuting and the fatigue-inducing regional airline pilot scheduling be addressed. The law that we so diligently fought for requires the Administrator to issue a final rule on new fatigue regulations by August 1, 2011. While clearly there is no way that the Administrator will be able to please every stakeholder, let alone reach a consensus, failure is not an option in this area when it comes to this rulemaking which is so critical to aviation safety. We are counting on Administrator Babbitt and the FAA to issue a final rule by next summer.
The Families of Continental Flight 3407