The last few days of terrible weather have been tough for the airline industry, especially JetBlue.
The airline has cancelled hundreds of flights and stranded passengers in the Caribbean for days.
That’s largely because it is based in the Northeast, where snow, ice, and freezing temperatures have created terrible conditions and closed airports.
But a JetBlue spokesperson told Business Insider there’s another issue giving it trouble: New, stricter rules governing how long pilots can work without a break, which went into effect over the weekend. They have hampered the airline’s ability to schedule extra flights and get people home, she said.
It’s hard to tell how much of an impact the regulations have really had on JetBlue’s operations, but it’s telling that other airlines aren’t complaining. Southwest, United, and American Airlines all neglected to blame the rule change for delays, according to Adam Johnson at Bloomberg.
The new rules were welcomed even by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents nearly 50,000 pilots and reliably lambastes any policy it believes will have any negative commercial effect on the U.S. airline industry.
ALPA also issued a statement saying “those who have claimed that these new regulations are the cause of current flight delays neglect to consider the impact of severe weather systems … and that the airlines have had two years to prepare for operations under the new rules,” according to Skift.
Whatever the role of the rules in this week’s air travel hot mess, it’s worth taking a look at what they say, and how they aim to make flying safer.
The changes were prompted by the 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 near Buffalo, which killed all 49 people on board. The accident was blamed in part on pilot fatigue, and the Federal Aviation Administration got to work drafting new regulations. Those were finalised in December 2011, and are now in full force.
There are no huge changes here, just lots of little tweaks: Rest periods lengthened, work hours reduced, loose definitions clarified. To make more sense of the 300-page ruling, the FAA boiled it down to three tables.
The first covers summarizes what kinds of changes have been made.
The second gives maximum flight time based on what time of day the flight began. According to ALPA, the old rule gave a limit of eight hours, but that could be extended based on “unforseen circumstances.”
The third table covers new maximum flight duty period limits, also based on start time. The FAA also extended the definition of flight duty period. It now covers training in a real aircraft of a simulator, standby duty, and deadheading (flying as a passenger to get to an assignment).
The allowable length of a flight duty period depends on when the pilot’s day begins and the number of flight segments he or she is expected to fly, and ranges from 9-14 hours for single crew operations. The flight duty period begins when a flightcrew member is required to report for duty with the intention of conducting a flight and ends when the aircraft is parked after the last flight.
It includes the period of time before a flight or between flights that a pilot is working without an intervening rest period. Flight duty includes deadhead transportation, training in an aircraft or flight simulator, and airport standby or reserve duty if these tasks occur before a flight or between flights without an intervening required rest period.
Here’s the table:
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