Monday, September 21, 2009

Minimum Rest Period in Suitable Accommodations

I've been out of touch for a while with the blog on automatic, but I've returned just in time to read Syrad's question and it's important enough to merit an entry in reply, rather than an extended comment. There are lots of people who don't read the comments. (They probably think they are like normal blog comments, but Cockpit Conversation readers are brilliant, so those that skip the comments are missing out). To recap for them, after I described my extended duty day, airline pilot Syrad asked:

Rest regulations and their current shortcomings are a big issue for me. I fly under 121 in the States, where the regulations say that we have to have at minimum eight hours of rest. However, that clock starts ticking fifteen minutes after we set the brake regardless of where we are. After deplaning passengers, doing postflight walkarounds, and shutting down the airplane we're rarely out of the airport by then. Our clock goes until our show time, which the company can reduce to thirty minutes before departure.

Essentially, this means that all the time we spend waiting for the hotel van/car service, travelling to and from the hotel, and checking in are part of our eight hours of rest. At my company we rarely only have minimum rest, but when we do it's common to only get five hours of actual sleep. Obviously these all come after long and hard days, because something unusual and annoying is happening at work if we're so delayed we're down to minimum rest. I hate doing min rest overnights, and I am frustrated that they're legal for us to do even though there has been copious research showing the wide-reaching consequences of not getting enough sleep. Research has shown that 97% of the adult population needs somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep to be fully rested. Current regulations ensure that a US airline crew on a minimum rest overnight is not getting anywhere near the amount of sleep needed to be fully rested.

With your operation, how does rest work? Obviously you have control over many things that airline crews don't have, so do you calculate the start of your rest time as when you walk in the hotel door and the end as when you leave the hotel? Or do you work it some other way? I'm curious because I believe that eight hours "behind the door" (at the hotel) is the absolute minimum that should be allowed. I'm also not a fan of sixteen hour duty days, which are legal for us. Fortunately they don't happen much, either, because I don't know many people who are still completely safe to operate an aircraft after sixteen straight hours of work.

The information in Syrad's question stunned me a little. I well know that the US border separates me from a country with its own laws, culture and tradition, but we use the same species of H. sapiens to operate the same kinds of airplanes on much the same kinds of routes. I know Canadian regulators look at research and changes in regulations in other similar countries, such as the US and Australia, and Transport Canada prides itself on being proactive in improving safety. For many regulations the wording is almost identical in the FARs (US Federal Aviation Regulations) and the CARs (Canadian Aviation Regulations). I'd expect the FAA to do the same thing. They must know about the big ugly loophole that leaves Syrad and her colleagues sleep deprived. Odd that they let it remain.

In Canada the CARs definitions, explain what is meant by "minimum rest period."

"minimum rest period" - means a period during which a flight crew member is free from all duties, is not interrupted by the air operator or private operator, and is provided with an opportunity to obtain not less than eight consecutive hours of sleep in suitable accommodation, time to travel to and from that accommodation and time for personal hygiene and meals.

That is, my duty day clock stops at shut down (it would end fifteen minutes later were I an airline pilot), so if I kill the engines at the last minute of my duty day, but then spend an hour unloading baggage and negotiating with the FBO for a tow into the hangar, I am still legal, but my rest clock doesn't start until I have been fed, transported to the hotel and had a shower, and I must be allowed opportunity to sleep for eight hours before I have to get up and get ready for the next day. My chief pilot says that to accomplish that, it should usually be ten hours between walking away from the parked airplane and being required to get back in.

The start of the next duty day is a little less defined. If you work for an airline it is at report, so the ride in the hotel van is on your own time, but the ride in the hotel van has to start after that opportunity for eight hours sleep. Your employer may define it for you, e.g. if you work for Transport Canada, your duty day starts when you leave your house in the morning. I start mine when I meet the client in the lobby to discuss the day's work.

On the flip side, the law also requires me to use the eight hours to sleep. I would be breaking a federal law if I party, go sightseeing, or otherwise fail to use eight hours of my rest period to sleep.

The law also defines where the company can dump me for my rest period.

"suitable accommodation" - means a single-occupancy bedroom that is subject to a minimal level of noise, is well ventilated and has facilities to control the levels of temperature and light or, where such a bedroom is not available, an accommodation that is suitable for the site and season, is subject to a minimal level of noise and provides adequate comfort and protection from the elements.

I'm thinking that part was written by someone who had lived in northern pilot accommodations. There are lots of ways to abuse a pilot.


Dave Starr said...

Welcome to the country of cost before safety. I've often noted comments from you regarding Canadian regs that made me wonder why the US are still so abysmally ill-considered. We are talking people's lives here.

I once corresponded with an acquaintance who flew freight for a very large worldwide freight company. The hours he worked for them as a professional pilot would not have been legal had he chosen to shift divisions and drive a commercial truck in their ground operations. Perhaps we should equip aircraft with sleeper cabs, not as nice as a hotel room, but at least it would be available and the pilots would get 8 hours sleep.

BusDriver said...

re: Perhaps we should equip aircraft with sleeper cabs,

Hey Dave - don't go giving anyone any ideas! I don't want to see some future airline equip it's aircraft with an "on-board sleeping accomodation" and expect pilots to live at the airport on the airplane. Come to think of it, many long-range airliners already have the sleeping quarters... yikes!! //nervous grin//

Syrad said...

Wow, thank you for such a thorough reply! As I suspected, Canadian regulations are more scientific and, well, humane. NASA did studies thirty years ago on sleep requirements and issued recommendations that sound pretty close to your regulations.

The reason things never changed in the US is simple, and the oldest one in commerce: it would cost money. The airlines have powerful lobbyists in Washington and whenever the subject of rest comes up before Congress it invariably falls apart with nothing changed. I think that the US is finally going to make some adjustments to regs simply to conform to ICAO standards.

The cherry on top of a reduced rest overnight is greeting the passengers the next morning. If you're down to exactly eight hours, that usually means your departure in the morning has to be delayed for you to get your legal "rest". So, the passengers show up for their 7am flight and are told it'll be delayed by an hour so the crew can get their rest. Obviously this rarely goes over well. The result is that when you get to the gate, head pounding from five and a half hours of sleep after an exhausting day of weather and diversions you get to listen to half the passengers ask if you got enough beauty rest. I enjoy talking to passengers, and I like people, but those mornings require every ounce of my professionalism to smile and say "Yes, sir, thank you for asking and welcome aboard!"

nec Timide said...

Syrad: I would be tempted to say "No sir, because of congressional regulations I only slept 5 and a half hours last night. Welcome aboard."

Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A Squared said...

Syrad: because of congressional regulations I only slept 5 and a half hours last night.

Congress doesn't make regulations. Congress makes Statutes. Regulations are made by bureaucrats within the relevant agency (in this case the FAA) which is actually under the executive beach, not the legislative. May seem like a minor distinction, but it has a great deal of significance in how the regulations are made, and how they are enforced, what rights you have in an enforcement. That's why in an FAA enforcement proceeding you have none of the rights you normally associate with the law Presumption of innocence, right to counsel, protection against self incrimination, etc.

A Squared said...


You should try flying under International rules. With a 3 person crew, the daily limit is 12 flight hours, with no duty day restrictions. Interestingly, those rules are used within Alaska, although I'm not clear on why that is. I can see that the operational necessity of overseas flights, and the fact that on such a flight you're mainly in cruise with not much going on could justify a different set of rules. I'm a little mystified how that applies to Alaska. Not a whole lot of difference from an fatigue standpoint between flying from Anchorage to Bethel, Alaska, and flying from Cleveland to Washington DC. As I have been flying airplanes with Flight Engineers for the last 10 years, I've been flying under those rules. I have in my logbook Part 121 flights with 7 legs, 11+ hours of flight time in an 18 hour duty day. The time between takeoff and landing was spent loading and unloading 30,000 lb of salmon. All perfectly legal under the regulations.

A Squared said...

busdriver said: I don't want to see some future airline equip it's aircraft with an "on-board sleeping accomodation" and expect pilots to live at the airport on the airplane.

Mesa is one step ahead of you. Mesa pilots have achieved a certain notoriety in the airline community for carrying pieces of plywood with which to bridge the aisle between seats so that they have room to sleep in the airplane on layovers where they are not provided hotels.


E said...

The US military uses something very similar to what you use Aviatrix... Only they can go party during the 8 hours since the regulations only state "the opportunity for 8 hours of uninterrupted rest." But they go a bit further and state you have have 12 hours from the time your last duty day ends to when the next one begins. It sounds like the same considerations for the definition of when that time starts and ends for you.

A Squared said...

THe striking (to me) thing about the Canadian Regulation is how specific it is. By contrast, about the only proviso on the US regulation is that "time spent in Transportation, not local in character......... is not considered part of a rest period"

The trouble is, what is "Not local in character"? I just re-read a letter by the FAA Chief Counsel in response to an ALPA request to clarify what that means, and there is no clarification. the letter rambles on for two and half pages on the subject, speaking in additional generalities like: "reasonably brief" and "unreasonable time". The end result is that instead of removing the ambiguity of "not local in character" the letter only add additional layers of ambiguity. A scheduler could argue that a 90 minute van ride to the hotel, each way is "reasonably brief" and "not local in character" and there's nothing in the regulation or contained in the letter of interpretation that on the face of it, would counter that claim.

horsndogluvr said...

Just found your blog. The FAA is fond of sleep deprivation. I've been retired from ATC (Pilot Weather Briefer) since '95. My station worked a backwards rotation, earlier every day. So "Monday" would be 4-midnight, and "Friday" was either 5am to 1pm, or midnight-8am.

That didn't save them any money. So I blame it on what I call the "Big Balls Effect," which is summed up in the old saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Public safety be damned, we have Big Balls!

Anonymous said...

Have you see the article on Fatigue in Aviation Week sept 21 issue? Calls for more study and technology to measure rest.

Dave Starr is spot on.

I had never heard of the Canadian regs before. Why we don't adopt them immediately is more political delay and obfuscation.