FAA under pressure on pilot rest rules

The Federal Aviation Administration is under new pressure to strengthen new regulations designed to combat pilot fatigue.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called Thursday on FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to bring minimum rest and duty requirements for cargo plane pilots in line with those governing the time commercial airline pilots can spend at the controls in a day.

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"To ensure that we have one level of safety for all pilots, I urge you to use your authority to update this rule and extend the rest and duty requirements to cover cargo pilots in the same manner as passenger pilots, as Congress intended,” Boxer wrote in a letter to Heurta.

Boxer’s reference is to legislation she penned with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine.) that directed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to write new rules for pilot hours of service. The bill was passed in the aftermath of a 2009 crash outside of Buffalo, N.Y.

The new requirements, which took effect in January, limit pilots of passenger planes to eight or nine hours a day, depending on their start time, and 10 hours of rest between works periods.

However, the rules do not cover cargo pilots, who can spend as long as 16 hours a day on duty.

"While I support this new rule, I am disappointed and alarmed that the FAA decided to exempt cargo pilots from its requirements,” Boxer said.