Airlines Sue FAA Over Crew Rest Changes

Jan 6, 2009
By Adrian Schofield/Aviation Daily

Seven U.S. carriers have launched a lawsuit against FAA in protest against new requirements for crew rest on ultra-long range (ULR) flights.

The carriers say FAA should have gone through a rulemaking process for the changes, allowing more industry input. Their complaint is not just procedural, however — the airlines claim the crew rest requirements place an unfair financial burden on them while safety benefits are unproven. Listed on the lawsuit are American, Continental, United, US Airways and JetBlue, as well as cargo carriers Evergreen and Atlas.

FAA wrote to both American and Continental in October telling them that their operational specifications would be amended to include the new ULR requirements. In American’s case, the agency said its flight between Chicago and Delhi would be affected by the changes. ULR flights are generally considered to be longer than 16 hours.

The agency would not comment on the lawsuit itself. FAA met with these carriers and other affected parties to discuss the ULR crew rest issue before the letters were sent. Delta had already negotiated changes in its rules to address ULR flights on a particular route, and these were approved by FAA in 2006.

In the October letters, FAA said it took into account the comments of the carriers before amending crew rest requirements. FAA said the revision “contains mitigations to address risks in ultra-long-range flight operations.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C. No hearing dates have been set. In their complaint, the seven cargo and passenger carriers say the new requirements “significantly exceed those currently specified…and will impose substantial burdens and costs” on operations.

From a regulatory perspective, the carriers believe the changes meet requirements for a proper rulemaking and comment procedure, and therefore violate the Administrative Procedure Act.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that in bypassing the rulemaking process, FAA has “deprived stakeholders with expertise on the underlying safety issues” of the chance to participate. Only through this process can the carriers be assured the changes will “not unintentionally degrade” safety. The revision is “not only legally defective but also was not produced in a way that is reasonably calculated to promote safety,” according to the lawsuit.

Separately, American stressed that the most important point is that the rule changes should have gone through the rulemaking process. By doing so, the FAA gains comments from fatigue experts, aircraft manufacturers, unions and airlines. “We believe that the safest rules come from that process because the FAA itself becomes more knowledgeable and better educated through the comment period.”

However, the Allied Pilots Association is in favor of the rule changes and does not believe there is a procedural problem. FAA held working groups where the issue was discussed, and the airlines used this opportunity to comment, APA spokesman Scott Shankland said. He believes the primary reason for the lawsuit is delay, as the airlines are concerned about additional cost. If anything, the FAA rule does not go far enough, APA said. For example, it wanted a requirement for an additional captain on ULR flights. But the revisions are in general a “first step in the right direction,” Shankland said.

Photo: American Airlines

Aviation Daily

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