NTSB Tells FAA To Curb Pilot Fatigue—Again

June 13, 2008 09:52 AM
by Colleen Brondou
Lack of regulations, inadequate staffing and decreasing revenues leave sleepy pilots in the cockpit, causing at least one crash but little action from the FAA.

30-Second Summary

On Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded its investigation into a Pinnacle Airlines plane that skidded off a Michigan runway in 2007 by naming pilot fatigue as a cause of the crash an imploring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to solve the ongoing problem. But in fact the NTSB has been asking the FAA to address pilot fatigue for years, with little success.

Although the FAA has long recognized that pilot fatigue is a safety issue, the organization has done little to enforce regulations to limit the number of flight hours, saying that “the extreme complexity of the issue … [does] not present appropriate material for regulatory activity.”

According to The New York Times, part of the FAA’s resistance may be due to outside pressures: airlines want to avoid regulations that would decrease their revenues, and pilots want to maximize time off by cramming their monthly flight hours into fewer days.

However, industry insiders suggest that, in the absence of regulations that limit flight hours to prevent fatigue, the onus has fallen to the pilots themselves. Captain John Prater, a pilot for Continental Airlines and president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), says that pilots are advised to call in sick when they are too tired to fly, and to resist “pilot pushing,” or pressure to fly despite fatigue.

The ALPA points out that inadequate staffing and pressure to meet revenue targets make it difficult for pilots to take needed rest. The organization says the answer “must include changing corporate cultures so that they seek to partner with, not punish, airline pilots for expressing fatigue concerns.”

Headline Link: ‘Pilot Fatigue Caused Skid’

Background: NTSB and FAA

Opinion & Analysis: Avoiding “pilot pushing”

Related Topics: Other safety issues


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