Recently-Released Study Falls Far Short of Meeting Congressional Intent
Buffalo, New York- December 12, 2011 – Facing a third Christmas without noted 9/11 widow and activist Beverly Eckert, her family made an impassioned plea to Obama administration, particularly Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, to not overlook the commuting element of the well-publicized pilot fatigue issue. While the FAA’s proposal on new limits for pilots’ flight and duty times has been in the spotlight, it is not expected to include any requirements for airlines and pilots related to commuting, which was exposed as a potentially dangerous practice in the NTSB’s examination of the Flight 3407 crewmembers’ final days.
“Beverly loved Christmas… all the twinkling lights, caroling, baking, bells, and bows. She was a creative gift giver and a Christmas decorator supreme. One year she wrote a short story, ‘A Christmas Memory’ and made it into a small book for each of us about her favorite Christmas,” stated Karen Eckert of Williamsville, New York. “However, Beverly’s greatest gift to us was always herself. She never missed making the trek home to spend a week with our large extended family at Christmas. Christmas was festive because Beverly came ‘home’. As millions of Americans travel home to be with their loved ones this year, many of them on regional airlines, our goal is to ensure that each and every one arrives safely. As long as the FAA, airlines, and pilot unions continue to look the other way when it comes to commuting, and to merely ‘hope’ that pilots act professionally and commute responsibly, we will allow a dangerous gap in safety to continue to exist. Flight 3407 taught us the hard way that ‘Hope is not a plan.’ We are counting on the FAA to meet Congress’s intent in determining the true scope of pilot commuting in the industry today, and more importantly, in ensuring that all airlines are proactive in identifying and mitigating the risks of pilots with potentially dangerous commutes.”
The issue of pilot commuting drew national attention when the NTSB investigation into the crash of Continental Flight 3407 revealed that neither the captain nor first officer received a full night’s sleep nor slept in a bed the night prior to the flight, and furthermore that the first officer commuted from Seattle to Newark through the night in the jump seat of a FedEx plane. Addressing the dangers of commuting was a key component of PL 111-216, ‘The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010’, which directed a National Academies of Science study into the prevalence of commuting, as well as industry best practices in reducing the dangers of commuting, and asked the FAA to incorporate these findings into its new flight and duty time final rule. However, the study fell far short of addressing these requirements and instead recommended further studies to collect more information from airlines on the commuting tendencies of their pilots, as well as to examine the effect of this practice on the sleep schedule of commuters. Consequent to this report, no further action has been taken.
This appeal on commuting comes as part of the Flight 3407 Families ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ campaign, aimed at highlighting key elements of the family group’s push for ‘One Level of Safety’ for all passengers traveling on the nation’s regional airlines, which account for over half of all flights flown in the United States.