Pilots: Scheduling rules not responsible for weather delays

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Mounting flight delays this week amid widespread cold weather in much of the country are not attributable to mandatory scheduling rules for pilots that have been enacted by the Department of Transportation, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is arguing.

Airlines have cancelled 12,965 flights this week and delayed 47,533 others during the weather pattern that has been identified by meteorologists as a “polar vortex,” according to the website FlightAware.com.

Some airline industry sympathizers have whispered that the number of flight cancellations was increased by the DOT’s requirement that commercial airline pilots to get at least 10 hours of off-duty time between work shifts.

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Flights that would have otherwise just been delayed were unable to be cleared for takeoff because pilots were maxed out on the number of hours they could work, the unintended consequences theory of the DOT rules goes.

The pilots association said that was untrue, however, arguing that the flight were only cancelled because the weather was bad.

“Record bad weather and poor planning for compliance with new regulations by a few individual airlines should not distract from the tremendous advancement in safety that has resulted from this past weekend’s implementation of the FAA’s new science-based flight- and duty-time regulations for airline pilots who fly passengers,” the pilots’ union said in a statement.

“Airlines have had two years’ advance notice, and the proactive safety culture at ALPA has aided the transition for our pilots,” the ALPA statement continued. “Implementation of these long-overdue regulations has gone smoothly in all but a very few cases. These new pilot fatigue rules are a significant accomplishment in enhancing safety for the traveling public.”

Under the scheduling rules, pilots are required to get at least 10 hours of off-duty time between flight schedules, which transportation department officials have said would give them at least the opportunity to get eight hours of sleep before they get to the cockpit.

Pilots are also now limited to no more than nine hours of "flight time," which is considered by the FAA to be any time an airplane is moving on its own power, even if it is on the ground at airport. Pilots are also limited to 28 working days in a month.

ALPA said this week that the only change that should be made to the new scheduling rules is that they should also be applied to pilots who are flying cargo planes.

“Where the safety achievement does fall short is that the new regulations do not apply to pilots who fly for all-cargo airlines,” the pilots’ union said. “While the new rules make historic progress for pilots who fly passengers by taking into account a pilot’s work schedule, aircraft equipment, human physiology, and travel distances, the deliberate exclusion of all-cargo airline pilots clearly indicates there is an illogical conclusion that these airline pilots do not deserve the same protection from fatigue…When these regulations are applied to all-cargo operations, our industry will take an enormous stride toward achieving one level of safety to the benefit of all who fly.”