Transport Canada proposes controversial new regulations on flight crew hours of work and rest periods

On July 1, 2017, Transport Canada published draft amendments to the CARs regarding pilot hours of work and rest periods (click here for proposed regulations). According to Transport Canada, the new regulations will improve passenger and flight crew safety as they are based on the latest science regarding fatigue and will bring Canada in line with international standards and best practices.

The draft regulations are the product of over six years of work and consultation. In 2010, a joint government/industry working group studied the issue, relying on the assistance of a scientific expert in sleep and performance. Subsequently, comments were sought on three separate occasions and various meetings held with interested stakeholders.

The proposed regulations would apply to CARs Subpart 703 (air taxi), 704 (commuter), and 705 (airline) operators. There are several key aspects to the proposed regulations. First, maximum annual flight time would be reduced from 1,200 to 1,000 hours. Second, the maximum flight duty period would be reduced from 14 hours to between 9 and 13 hours, depending on when the duty commences, and the number and duration of flights. The lower end of this range would apply to duty periods commencing between 23:00 and 03:59, reflecting research demonstrating the particularly detrimental effects of fatigue during the “window of circadian low”. Duty time limitations are also proposed. These include an annual maximum of 2,400 hours, and specific limits within 7- and 28-day periods depending on time free from duty, timing of the flights, and longest flight duty period.

Rest periods would be increased from 8 to between 10 and 12 hours, depending on whether the pilot is at home base, and whether the rest occurs in accommodation provided by the operator. Local night rest periods (beginning at 22:30 and ending at 07:30 at the location where the pilot is acclimatized) would have to be provided for “disruptive” schedules (e.g., where the pilot transitions from a night duty to an early morning duty), three consecutive night duty periods, or where there are time zone differences.

The proposed requirements can be deviated from in certain circumstances. First, an operator may implement a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) that demonstrates that they can provide the same level of safety as the regulations. An FRMS includes elements such as identification of fatigue-related hazards, fatigue reporting, and training. An operator’s FRMS would not be approved by Transport Canada, but ongoing compliance would be monitored through requests for information/documentation as well as general inspections and audits.

Second, in “unforeseen operational circumstances”, the pilot-in-command would have authority to extend a duty period by up to three hours, depending on the number of relief pilots and the number of flights. Third, the maximum flight duty period could be increased with a combination of relief pilots and rest facilities. For example, if there are two additional pilots and a class 1 rest facility (a horizontal sleeping surface separate from the flight deck and passenger cabin), the maximum duty period is 18 hours.

Transport Canada claims that the costs of the proposed regulations will be $337.65 million and the benefits $314.30 million over a 15 year period. While a majority of the costs would be borne by Part 705 operators, Transport Canada acknowledges that the relative costs would be higher for smaller operators. The vast majority of the purported benefits are expected to come from a reduction in accidents, based on data that between 15% and 0% of aviation accidents are contributed to by fatigue and an assumption that the amendments will reduce the fatigue-related accident risk by over 50%.

Consultation on the proposed regulations is open until September 29 2017. Once the regulations are published in final form, 705 operators will have one year to comply, and 703 and 704 operators will have four years to comply with them.

Given the wide range of operations affected and the potential costs compared to estimated benefits, these proposed regulations are contentious. While all involved in the aviation industry place a very high value on safety, there remains an issue over balancing everyone’s interests and how best to achieve those goals at reasonable costs. Time will tell whether and how Transport Canada will respond to industry concerns and recommendations, and how the eventual implementation of the regulations will affect pilots and operators.