New rules to ensure that commercial airline pilots work shorter schedules and get more rest were finalized Wednesday, a direct outcome of the Colgan Air commuter-jet crash in 2009 near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50 people.
In the first overhaul of flight-crew rest regulations in 26 years, the Federal Aviation Administration said pilots must get a minimum of 10 hours of rest between shifts, up from eight hours now.
Pilots' flight-duty periods would range from nine to 14 hours, down from a maximum 16 hours now. For the first time, hours spent commuting to the job will count as flight-duty time.
Actual flying time will be limited to eight or nine hours, depending on the start time of the pilot's entire flight duty.
Airlines will be required to give pilots at least 30 consecutive hours free from duty each week, a 25 percent increase.
Under current rules, pilots get eight-hour rest breaks, but that includes meals and travel time, which leaves fewer hours for sleep.
The new standards require at least 10 hours of rest, with an opportunity for eight hours behind a closed door.
The update in work rules takes effect in two years, and does not apply to cargo carriers. The FAA said forcing cargo operators such as United Parcel Service, which fly mostly at night, to comply would have been too costly.
The agency estimated the cost to the aviation industry would be $297 million over 10 years, but said savings in improved productivity and reduced absenteeism and accidents would amount to $247 million to $470 million.
The union representing UPS pilots criticized the FAA's exemption.
"To potentially allow fatigued cargo pilots to share the same skies with properly rested passenger pilots creates an unnecessary threat to public safety," said Capt. Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association. "We can do better."
National Transportation Safety Board chair Deborah A.P. Hersman, calling the changes "a huge improvement over the status quo," also expressed disappointment that cargo operators were not included.
"A tired pilot is a tired pilot, whether there are 10 paying customers on board or 100, whether the payload is passengers or pallets," Hersman said.
A year after the Colgan Air crash, the NTSB said that pilot error was the probable cause, but that pilot fatigue may have contributed.
The copilot, Rebecca Shaw, 24, had traveled all night from Seattle, hopping two cargo planes, to report to work in Newark, N.J., on Feb. 12. She had a six-hour nap in a crew lounge and reported not feeling well just before the plane took off.
Capt. Marvin Renslow, 47, had commuted from Tampa, Fla., to Newark and spent two of the three nights before the flight in a crew lounge without beds.
The NTSB noted Renslow had "experienced chronic sleep loss" before making an incorrect response in icy conditions to a cockpit stall warning.