FAA Deputy Administrator Highlights Fatigue Responsibilities; Implementation might Benefit from SMS process

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ARTICLE:  “Preventing Fatigue is a Joint Responsibility”


Over the past one or two years, there are few issues which have attracted as much attention as pilot fatigue, or as it used to be known as “Flight & Duty Time.”
The new regulation caused the cargo airline pilots to petition Congress and the new rules attracted more debate. ALPA held a conference on the new Part 117 where all interested parties were given an opportunity to be heard.

One of the speakers was the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Peggy Gilligan who spoke about the rule’s history and present meaning. She emphasized that any rule only works if the cockpit member presents himself or herself for work fit for the demands of piloting.

Another speaker, the Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker, spoke with the authority of the FAA’s #2 executive. This newest member of the FAA senior management team made the following very explicit, telling statement:

“The success of this rule boils down to the fact that preventing fatigue is a joint responsibility. It is the responsibility of both the airline and the pilot. The airline provides an expanded opportunity for rest. And the pilot has the responsibility to take advantage of that window and get the rest he or she needs. Pilots need to examine their lives at work and at home and consider activities and commutes which could contribute to fatigue. Pilots are going to have to sign a release before every segment, saying they are fit for duty. And if a pilot is fatigued, the airline must remove him or her and allow the pilot to rest (emphasis added).

The responsibility of the pilot and of the airline in implementing this new, innovative safety regime is very high. What actually happens in the field – what does and doesn’t work – are necessary postscripts to the rule making process.

As with any new rule and particularly this rule with such a contentious history, the day-to-day execution of these new complex regulations will test the precise meaning of the words. Hopefully, the ALPA symposium, at which Deputy Administrator Whitaker and Associate Administrator Gilligan spoke, created some pre-effectiveness insights. In the likely event that there continues to be some fatigue events, the SMS process could provide management and the unions early evidence of “rubs” and the opportunity to cooperatively devise solutions.

The SMS team might consider if there are specific data points which could be included and/or considered. In order to better assess the new fatigue rules’ contribution to the carrier’s safety performance, the unions and management would have to identify valid objective data to track the impact of the new set of rules. Such an SMS exercise might enhance the implementation of the new pilot fatigue rules.

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