A Federal Aviation Administration proposal to alter flight duty and rest regulations to combat fatigue has incited a scathing reaction from US lobbying group the Air Transport Association of America.

The ATA calls the proposal "operationally onerous", warns that implementation will prove far more costly than is estimated and says the document should be significantly revised.

In July 2009, in the aftermath of the fatal Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 crash at Buffalo that trained the spotlight on pilot fatigue issues, the FAA established the Flight and Duty Time Limitations and Rest Requirements aviation rulemaking committee, which provided a forum for airlines, labour and FAA representatives to give extensive input on revising current flight and duty time limitations regulations.

With guidance from the committee, the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks to give pilots the right to decline an assignment if they feel fatigued, increases to 9h from 8h the rest time that must be taken before arriving for duty and introduces different fatigue management requirements based on time of day, number of scheduled segments, flight types, time zones and likelihood that a pilot is able to sleep.

In addition, the recently passed Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 mandates that the agency issue a final rule on pilot fatigue by 1 August 2011.

Responding to the FAA's proposal, the ATA says the consequence "of these scientifically and operationally unjustified requirements", is that "the proposed rule, taken as a whole, is operationally onerous with duplicative measures that do little to mitigate fatigue or increase safety beyond what the core elements provide".

It adds: "FAA has promulgated a rule that treats the airline industry as operating under a single model instead of a complex industry with a variety of models and operating environments and demands."

Furthermore, the ATA argues that the FAA ignores the operational experience of the international airline community. "Neither the United Kingdom's CAP-371 regulation nor the European Union's Subpart Q regulation, for example, has a daily flight time limit. This is because the body of scientific research and literature demonstrates that in the face of a reasonable FDP [flight duty period], a daily limit is duplicative and unnecessary."

The FAA estimates the cost of the rule to be $1.25 billion over 10 years, but the ATA pins the nominal cost - including direct passenger costs of at least $3.14 billion over 10 years - at $19.6 billion over 10 years.

Source: Flight International