Tired Pilots Get Reprieve


This is the result of an extended duty time for an Air Force nuclear alert pilot. Now, on the serious side. Today is a great day for all pilots (except cargo pilots) since the FAA is finally implementing the long-overdue changes to flight and duty time limitations for commercial pilots. Twenty years ago the NTSB had informed the FAA that there was a need to revise these regulations for the sake of aviation safety. After the highly publicized Continental 3407 (Colgan Air) crash in Buffalo on February 12, 2009, the congressional sub-committee on aviation gathered up Sully Sullenberger and several other high-level aviation Kahunas and demanded that FAR rules relating to pilot fatigue be revised. Nearly three years later, it was finally effectuated. Yes, better late than never!

However, there is a fly in the ointment since the pilots that fly cargo are exempt from the new rules. Do cargo pilots require less sleep? No, on the contrary, they may require more because they are more likely to be working on “the back side of the clock” when the circadian rhythm monster is nipping at their heels. This exclusion for cargo pilots is an unjustifiable mistake. Perhaps with enough outrage from the folks with the megaphones, we will put, the all to often and unfairly demeaned “freight dogs” on an equal footing with the passenger carrying pilots. It should also be pointed out that airplanes operated by very tired cargo pilots have a much worse safety record and nearly all of the accidents have occurred with pilots at the helm were in an advanced state of sleep deprivation.

“I’m from FAA and I am here to help you.”( unless you might be a very tired but experienced, competent, and well-trained cargo pilot). In 1995 a Kalitta Air DC-8 on approach into GITMO (Guantanamo Bay) crashed on approach and either killed or seiously injured the flight crew aboard the aircraft. A review of their duty day revealed that they had been on duty for 19 hours. And here is the “kicker.” After off-loading cargo at GITMO they were scheduled to fly their airplane to Atlanta. I elaborate on the “tired pilot”syndrome in my book, The Rogue Aviator, and there are numerous passages relating several 20 hour plus duty periods. The problem of tired pilots in the cockpit is only partialy solved. At GITMO there were no apartment building or schools on the approach path. There are many airports where hundreds, if not thousands of people on the ground could be killed or seriously injured in the event of a large (747 for instance) splattering itself into the terra firma someplace other than a runway.

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