Pilots call for more fatigue regulations in Canada

WATCH ABOVE: No passenger wants to fly with a pilot who is exhausted and rules exist to limit how long a pilot can be at the controls. But, in Canada, those rules aren’t as robust as they are in other countries. Now, the country’s pilots union is sounding the alarm. Jennifer Tryon looks at what’s at stake and what tougher rules would cost.

It’s been nearly 20 years since fatigue regulations governing pilots and crew members in Canada have been updated.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Canada’s FDT (flight duty time) regulations are vastly outdated, and continue to be among the worst in the world,” stated Capt. Ian Smith, President of Air Canada Pilot’s Association (ACPA).

The governments in the U.S., Europe and Australia have already agreed to new international safety standards set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). These regulations are based on fatigue science produced by NASA. They reduce flying hours, require pilots to take more breaks and rest periods to ward off safety issues sparked by fatigue.

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Dr. Atul Khullar with the Northern Alberta Sleep Clinic says fatigue can cause neurological dysfunction.

“You are definitely not going to be a peak performance but whether that translates into errors on the task you’ve done a lot of times isn’t as clear,” Khullar said.

For five years the various groups in the Canadian aviation industry have been consulting with government to amend the rules and made more than 50 proposed changes to regulations.

Federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt has issued a notice of amendment to change Canada’s regulations. The notice states amendments would consist of two phases to be implemented over five years.

Raitt declined an interview to explain why she didn’t adopt all the regulations many in the Canadian aviation industry had been lobbying for.

Instead, they’re limited to:

  • Annual flight time limitations — The annual flight time limitation would be reduced to 1 000 hours in 365 days.
  • Flight duty time (FDT) limitations — The daily flight time limitation would be amended to introduce a range of FDT from 9 hours to 13 hours, which would be determined based on the start time of the flight duty and by the number of segments of the flight.
  • Rest period — The minimum requirement for a rest period would be clarified in the CARs by modifying the current definition and by creating a new regulation in which a flight crew member would be afforded a period of 10 consecutive hours (for the purpose of obtaining the eight hours of sleep) plus travel time and time for meals and hygiene.
  • Requirements for time free from duty — The current requirement for time free from duty would be modified to 33 consecutive hours free in 168 consecutive hours in which the time free from duty would begin no later than 22:30 and end no earlier than 07:30 on the second subsequent morning
  • Fatigue Risk Management System — The proposed amendment would introduce the concept of a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS), to implement on a voluntary basis, and would outline the required components of an effective FRMS. Should an operator have an FRMS in place, the proposed regulatory amendment may allow the operator to move outside of the prescribed limits for FDT by extending the maximum FDT per flight schedule by one hour.

Phase one will apply only to large commercial carriers, like Air Canada and Westjet.

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In a statement, Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick says the airline already has stricter rules than required by current Canadian regulations negotiated into its collective agreement.

“The duty day for our pilots ranges from 10 hours to 14 hours depending on the time of day for a two-pilot crew. If there are three or four pilots then the duty ranges from 14 hours to 18 hours.”

ACPA wants regulations extended to all pilots, so every Canadian is insured the same safety standard — whether it’s a float plane or a jet.

Under this proposal, small airlines like northern carriers and air taxis could continue to work longer hours. Any new regulations affecting small carriers could be brought forth in phase two.

John McKenna, President and CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada, says small carriers should be exempt from upgraded fatigue regulations.

“For example northern carriers often fly to very remote regions,” McKenna said from Ottawa. “Will they be able to do that with just one crew? Or will they have to double crew in order to do a round trip in one day?”

Small carriers often operate planes with limited seating. Bringing additional crew to provide extra breaks or requiring overnight stays could increase costs by 30 per cent, McKenna estimates.

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“We don’t think there’s a dire need in this regard. The amendments that they tabled are very costly and have serious consequence for our industry,” said McKenna. “The Transport Safety Board of Canada has never said that fatigue is an issue that needs to be addressed.

When U.S carrier Delta Airlines, which employees approximately 12,000 pilots, adopted the ICAO standards it was forced to hire an additional 1200 pilots, according to Smith. When Europe’s Lufthansa Airline, which employs approximately 4500 pilots, implements the ICAO fatigue regulations in early 2016 is looking to hire another 100-180 pilots.

“Safety has to be enhanced in our industry,” Smith says. “Safety is not negotiable and safety must be accepted by all members of our industry.”

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