UPDATE 2-U.S. proposes new rest rules for airline pilots

* Regulation could increase airline scheduling costs

* Plan would scale back pilot duty time

* 2009 crash accelerated action on rest rule change
(Adds ATA comment, Colgan crash, NTSB investigation, byline)

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (BestGrowthStock) – Airlines would be required
to give pilots longer rest periods and scale back duty time
under a U.S. government proposal on Friday aimed at combating
fatigue in the cockpit.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) changes, if
finalized, could force airlines to hire more pilots, change
flight schedules, and revamp negotiated union work rules.

Major carriers are very sensitive to any mandate that would
raise costs just as their finances are improving following a
recession-driven downturn.

Unionized pilots at several carriers have been pushing for
more flexible work schedules and more hiring.

Big carriers like Delta Air Lines (DAL.N: ), UAL Inc’s
(UAL.N: ) United Airlines and Continental Airlines (CAL.N: ) each
employ thousands of pilots. The impact of any change would
depend on a carrier’s internal policies on fatigue.

The FAA regulation also would apply to operations at U.S.
regional carriers, such as Delta’s Comair affiliate and
Pinnacle Airlines Inc’s (PNCL.O: ) Colgan Air.

Airlines have warned that if the regulations, which were
widely expected, are too onerous, carriers could wind up
reducing capacity to keep costs in line.

The industry’s leading trade group, the Air Transport
Association, said in a statement that it was evaluating the FAA
proposal and would support new fatigue standards if they were
scientifically based and “crafted to truly improve safety.”

MINIMUM REST PERIODS

Under pressure from families of the victims of a Colgan
crash last year in New York that killed 49 people and raised
questions about crew scheduling, Congress required new efforts
on pilot fatigue and training this summer.

The FAA proposed a nine-hour minimum rest period prior to
flying, geared toward ensuring adequate sleep. That would be a
one-hour increase over current rules.

To prevent fatigue over weekly and monthly schedules, the
FAA proposed new limits on the amount of time a pilot can be on
duty. For instance, pilots must receive at least 30 consecutive
hours free from duty weekly, a 25 percent increase over current
rules.

The FAA, which accelerated work on the fatigue measure
earlier this year under its administrator and former pilot,
Randy Babbitt, first proposed updating pilot rest rules in the
mid-1990s. But regulators never finished the work due to
shifting agency priorities, political wrangling and unresolved
technical questions on how to proceed.

The Colgan crash, in which a Bombardier DHC-8-400 plunged
into a snow-covered neighborhood as it neared Buffalo, New
York, on Feb. 12, 2009, exposed serious questions about pilot
training.

The National Transportation Safety Board noted as part of
its investigation that pilots for smaller carriers can commute
lengthy distances to work, experience hectic and long days, and
use crew lounges to catch up on their sleep during breaks.

These smaller airlines perform a substantial amount of
short-haul flying for their big affiliates.

The FAA proposal says it is unreasonable to assume that a
pilot is resting while commuting, and that airlines would be
required to arrange adequate rest periods outside of commuting
hours.

The new rule would give airlines some flexibility on
scheduling, considering that airline operations vary, including
aircraft type, routes, and staffing.

The proposal is subject to a 60-day public comment period.
(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

UPDATE 2-U.S. proposes new rest rules for airline pilots