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Pilot associations, unions demand stronger regulations on fatigue

Proposed changes not good enough: ACPA


(Canadian OH&S News) — Transport Canada (TC) has proposed updates to its fatigue-management regulations for flight crews, but stakeholder unions are saying that the changes are not enough — that they do not comply with established science on pilot fatigue.

Safer Skies, a coalition that includes the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA), Unifor, Teamsters Canada and other groups, ran an online petition to Transport Minister Marc Garneau from April to August. Sponsored by John Brassard, the Conservative MP for Barrie-Innisfil, Ont., the petition demanded the following:

— the same protective fatigue limits for pilots of all sizes of aircraft;
— a limitation of ten hours, or 8.5 hours of flight time, on pilot duty periods that begin after 5 p.m.; and
— reliance of fatigue-risk management systems on science-based prescriptive limits.

The petition had collected 9,104 signatures nationwide at the time of its close on Aug. 26.

The ACPA did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment, but an Aug. 22 media release quoted CEO Milt Isaacs as saying that Canada’s aviation regulations were “out of step” with what scientific research recommends.

“Canada has an opportunity to ensure safer skies — but risks squandering it by disregarding sleep science and international standards,” said Isaacs. “Canadian pilots are asking for help — on behalf of their passengers and crew — to ensure that Canada is a leader and not a laggard in aviation-fatigue science.”

Captain Dan Adamus, the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l Canada, said in a press statement that Canadian pilots get less time to recover from long hours of flight time than pilots have in any other country.

“Even the updated regulations do not go far enough,” said Captain Adamus.

In an e-mailed response, TC media-relations representative Pierre Manoni told COHSN that the regulation amendments, first proposed in July, include the following: prohibition of flight-crew members from working within 12 hours of drinking alcohol, an increase from eight hours; new, science-based rules on fatigue management regarding flight-time and work-hour limitations; flight-duty period limitations based on time of day, rest duration and time off; and requirements for a fatigue risk-management system.

“The new rules aim to reduce flight-crew member fatigue and align with today’s scientific data, international standards and best practices,” wrote Manoni. “[TC] is always looking for ways to increase aviation safety and harmonize its regulations with other countries.”

He added that the regulation changes were based on three years of consultations with stakeholders, including industry associations and labour organizations. “Unions and the National Airlines Council of Canada were generally supportive,” said Manoni.

But the ACPA release maintained that Canada needs to make further changes urgently, before a tragedy occurs. The association cited the Colgan Air accident in Buffalo in 2009, after which the United States Federal Aviation Administration revised its regulations; as a result, pilot augmentation is now mandatory after eight hours of flight time for departures after 8 p.m. in the U.S.

“Unlike a tired driver, a pilot can’t pull over to the side of the road,” the release stated. “NASA research recommends a maximum flight time at night of 8.5 hours, as alertness, response time and cognitive performance is degraded.

“Fatigue is especially prevalent on long-haul overnight flights, but it can be mitigated with… adequate rest, sufficient recovery time after crossing time zones and ensuring additional pilots are on board to take over the controls.”

Manoni said that once the proposed changes go into effect, airline operators will have a year to comply with them, while air-taxi and commuter operators will have four years.

“Transport Canada recognizes that fatigue management is a complex issue,” he wrote. “Canadians and industry members are encouraged to provide feedback on the draft regulations.”