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Canada cuts pilot duty times and extends required rest periods

Transport Canada has cut maximum on-duty periods for pilots and tweaked pilot rest requirements in a move regulators describe as more-closely aligning Canadian rules with international standards.

Notably, the regulatory changes do away with Canada's previous 14h maximum on-duty period for pilots.

When the new rule takes effect in two years for large airlines, duty days will capped at between 9h and 13h depending on factors like flight duration, the number of daily flights flown and duty start times.

A pilot scheduled to fly seven daily flights starting at midnight, for instance, will be limited to a 9h duty day, while a pilot flying four daily flights starting at 08:00 can be on duty for 13h, the rules say.

"There is evidence that, after 12h of work, human performance begins to exponentially degrade," regulatory materials say. Pilots who fly all night and land early in the morning experience fatigue impairment "equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.08%, the legal limit for drivers in Canada", materials say.

Transport Canada issued the new regulations on 12 December, more than four years after formally proposing changes.

"Transport Canada’s new regulations align with today’s scientific data, international standards and best practices, and respond to concerns raised by communities, pilots and airlines," says Canadian transport minister Marc Garneau in a media release.

The new rule also trims annual flight time limits to 1,000h, down from 1,200h, and the limit is now 112h in 28 days, down from 120h in 30 days.

Transport Canada also tweaked rest period requirements, which were formerly set at 8h (plus time for meals, hygiene and travel) between duty periods. Now, pilots must have 10h rest in "suitable accommodation" when away from their home base, or, when at their home base, up to 12h.

The rule does, however, allow airlines with "unique operations" the flexibility to operate outside prescribed limits if they develop a "fatigue risk management system".

Such carriers, which could include cargo airlines operating out-and-back flights with long layovers, might be able to skirt some requirements by tweaking pilots' schedules to ensure sufficient rest.

Air Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though rules received approval from other airlines.

WestJet says it welcomes the change. Regional carrier Air Georgian calls the rules a "positive first step", but says it intends to develop a risk management system.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), which represents WestJet pilots, supports the rules, but the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) does not.

ACPA says it is "gravely disappointed" with "substandard fatigue rules". The changes are "risky for overseas flights at night" because they allow pilots working such flights to be on duty several hours more than permitted for pilots at US airlines.

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