A Pilot may not fly when Fatigued; that rule protects Safety

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Cargo pilots are claiming that the lack of regulations is likely to result in fatal accidents. That allegation is not sustainable if the PICs and SICs are complying with one simple rule.

The FAA has struggled with the single most contentious FAR on the books. The Flight and Duty Time regulations are now entitled Flight and Duty Limitations and Rest Requirements: Flightcrew Members, 14 CFR Part 117. The above picture and below article suggest that any problems which may ensue from fatigued cargo pilots crash is attributable to the absence of adequate regulations. That conclusion is a bit incongruous based on the words of the existing rules.

After many years of debate over the pilots’ work rules as written in the form of safety regulations, the FAA established a panel of experts, chartered them as an ARAC, compelled considerable public input and tried to develop a consensus about what are the proper safety parameters for pilot fatigue. That new concept was issued as a final rule. It went through rigorous review within the industry (including pilots unions), through OST and OMB and scrutinized by Congress.

The new regime distinguishes between passenger and cargo cockpit crews. The rationale was thoroughly deliberated in the ARAC and the NPRM; for a long list of valid analytical and economic reasons, cargo pilots are regulated by less restrictive rules.

The rule, which governs cargo and all professionals who manipulate the controls of commercial aircraft, is 14 CFR §117.5. The words are exacting, compelling and addressed to the individuals complaining:

§ 117.5 Fitness for duty.

(a) Each flightcrew member must report for any flight duty period rested and prepared to perform his or her assigned duties.

(b) No certificate holder may assign and no flightcrew member may accept assignment to a flight duty period if the flightcrew member has reported for a flight duty period too fatigued to safely perform his or her assigned duties.

(c) No certificate holder may permit a flightcrew member to continue a flight duty period if the flightcrew member has reported him or herself too fatigued to continue the assigned flight duty period.

(d) As part of the dispatch or flight release, as applicable, each flightcrew member must affirmatively state he or she is fit for duty prior to commencing flight.

If that is not sufficiently clear, the FAA added the following relevant definitions (14CFR§117.3):

Duty means any task that a flightcrew member performs as required by the certificate holder, including but not limited to flight duty period, flight duty, pre- and post-flight duties, administrative work, training, deadhead transportation, aircraft positioning on the ground, aircraft loading, and aircraft servicing.

Fatigue means a physiological state of reduced mental or physical performance capability resulting from lack of sleep or increased physical activity that can reduce a flightcrew member’s alertness and ability to safely operate an aircraft or perform safety-related duties.

Fit for duty means physiologically and mentally prepared and capable of performing assigned duties at the highest degree of safety.

So if a pilot, any pilot, believes that her or his fatigue will reduce his or her alertness and ability to safely operate and aircraft, that flightcrew member must not accept an assignment in such a condition. That professional is uniquely qualified to measure personal fitness for duty. The airlines have secondary obligations to assess the flightcrew’s readiness.

If as Capt. Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association, says “It’s not a matter of if a tragedy will happen. It’s a matter of when it will happen,” then he is admitting that his members are not complying, will not comply, with 14 CFR §117.5. That rule should protect against the disasters which the union is forecasting.

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