Canadian pilots are asking the federal government to review its proposed fatigue rules – which have come into the spotlight after the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled that fatigue was the cause of a near collision last year.
Air Canada Flight 759 nearly landed on a runway in San Francisco while another plane was on it on July 7, 2017. The plane was diverted just in time.
WATCH: Transport Minister Marc Garneau on proposed changes to pilot fatigue rules
The NTSB said Tuesday that pilot error led to the incident after the pilot had been awake for 19 hours.
Former pilot and CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, Ross Aimer, said fatigue is known as the “silent killer.”
Humans make mistakes, Aimer said, and “we make mistakes more frequently when we’re fatigued.”
“If we don’t address this, fatigued pilots could be very dangerous,” he said, adding it affects even the most experienced pilots.
The Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) says the NTSB’s finding is a “wake-up call” for Canada.
“Their findings on fatigue underscore the many years of urgent calls by Canada’s pilots for flight crew fatigue rules that are supported by science,” Captain Matt Hogan of the ACPA said in a release.
“The government’s proposed rules fall short; they would allow Canadian pilots who begin their duty at 9 p.m. to operate two hours longer than NASA research recommends, and even longer than would be permitted in the United States. Canada’s new fatigue rules must close this two-hour gap.”
Currently, the rules allow a pilot to work up to 14 hours of flight duty time. The proposed rules change that to 13 hours for pilots who take off during regular business hours and nine hours for pilots who take off between midnight and 3 a.m.
But the pilots’ union argues it’s the in-between flights that are at issue – meaning the flights that land during the evening, night or early morning hours. Pilots who take off between 5 p.m. and midnight are still required to work up to 10.5 hours of flight time.
“This would be two hours in excess of what NASA recommends and two and a half hours in excess of what the FAA regulations will allow,” Hogan told Global News.
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For the government’s part, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he and his department have been working with pilots, associations and airlines on the regulations.
“We have done extensive consultation, and we have to address all of the spectrums of the airline world … we are very satisfied that we have come up with modern regulations that address safety,” Garneau told Global News on Wednesday.
“In fact, if the regulations we proposed had been in effect in 2017, the pilot in question wouldn’t have been allowed to fly on that extended duty.”
The reason behind the different regulations for different parts of the day? A pilot’s body clock or circadian rhythm, Aimer explained.
“You’re drowsy in the overnight period,” Hogan agreed.
Aimer said airlines and aviation authorities have known about this issue for years, but for some reason “Canadians are way behind on this.”
He suggested Canadians adopt the U.S.’s Federal Aviation Authorities rules, or even something stricter.
Instead, the ACPA says the rules go the other way.
“We obviously believed that Canadians deserve safer skies and the highest level of safety that can be provided,” Hogan said.