Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Aviation Safety: Pilot Fatigue

December 1, 2009

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—Good morning. Addressing pilot fatigue is an issue for which it has taken far too long to achieve meaningful reform. The travelling public deserves a better effort to make certain any plane on which they fly has an alert and well rested flight crew.

With Thanksgiving having just ushered in the holiday season, there is no better time to focus on fatigue. This has always been a critical issue, yet it has languished on the National Transportation Safety Board’s Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements since the list was first published nearly two decades ago.

The urgency to address the complexities of fatigue has been heightened as the industry has changed dramatically in recent years. Pilots are pushed to aggressively perform as many take-off and landings as they can each day, while new aircraft can fly incredibly long routes halfway around the globe.

Stories of pilots anonymously admitting to nodding off, or even a case last year where both pilots fell asleep while flying a commercial aircraft on a short flight, highlight the need to confront this issue directly and immediately. It is just not acceptable to imagine putting your entire family on a flight where there is any possibility that the flight crew has not received enough rest.

The FAA’s current fatigue rules are universally believed to be out of date. We can and must do better; new policies are long overdue.

I am encouraged that the FAA has formed an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to develop recommendations, and unlike past efforts, this one has reached a consensus on several critical changes. I look forward to having the agency finally issue new rules in the near future.

And I hope the FAA will consider every option at its disposal when it comes to flight fatigue and putting countermeasures into action.

In July, I introduced the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, which seeks to make absolutely certain that the latest scientific research on fatigue is considered and incorporated into any future rules created for commercial flight crews.

We have to get this right. The old rules are not working, and the consequences of doing nothing could be devastating.

The American people expect the pilots flying their plane to be completely awake and alert. It is about safety plain and simple – the safety of our airways, the safety of our pilots and most importantly the safety of the traveling public.