Skip to main content /TRAVEL /TRAVEL

Airlines, pilots debate remedy for flying fatigue


From Patty Davis
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pilot fatigue may have been a factor in the crash of an American Airlines flight nearly two years ago as it skidded off a Little Rock, Arkansas runway, investigators say.

Since the accident that killed the pilot and 10 others, pilot fatigue has become a top concern for airline officials and the pilots themselves.

But this week, a major pilots union and the airlines are holding separate conferences on pilot fatigue, a sign that there's little agreement on just how many hours pilots should put in.

The Air Transport Association, which represents major U.S. airlines, is sponsoring "Alertness Management in Flight Operations," a symposium dedicated to addressing what it calls alertness-management issues.

At the same time, the Air Line Pilots Association is discussing the risk to air safety caused by pilot fatigue, and is trying to find consensus on flight time issues.


"Human error is caused by fatigue. If we're going to continue to make this industry safer we have to eliminate human error and the best way to do that is to have completely rested pilots," said Duane Worth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to have at least eight hours of rest in any 24-hour period. The means pilots can work 16-hour days. But delays sometimes make it a longer day.

Airlines suing FAA

In a recent clarification of its rule, the FAA says it will no longer allow airlines to require pilots to work more than 16 hours.

But airlines say the stricter interpretation will play havoc with their schedules, and could cause more delays during the busy travel season this summer. They're suing the FAA to stop a strict 16-hour pilot work day.

"If you already have departed the gate and you now get caught up in a two- to three-hour weather delay and you know you will go over your duty day, then you will have to turn around and go back, climb out of the cockpit, and the chances of getting a backup pilot will be very difficult," said Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association.

"So in most cases, that flight will be canceled."

Pilots say the problem is particularly acute at regional and cargo airlines.

A NASA study of regional airline pilots found that 89 percent rated fatigue as a moderate to serious concern, 88 percent say fatigue is a common occurrence, and 86 percent report they received no training from their companies on fatigue.

• Air Transport Association
• Air Line Pilots Association
• National Transportation Safety Board
• Federal Aviation Administration

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top