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Old 15th May 2001, 18:28
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May 15, 2001
F.A.A. Plans to Enforce Work Rules Warning to Airlines on Pilots' Schedules


WASHINGTON, May 14 — The Federal Aviation Administration today said it would tell the airlines to stop requiring pilots to fly without regard to delays that stretch their work days to more than 16 hours. The agency warned that beginning in six months it would "rigorously enforce" rules that have been on the books since 1985.

But the agency would not answer questions about what it would do about a pilot who was fired by his airline last year for refusing to fly a delayed flight that would have put him well over 16 hours of duty time.

The rules governing how many hours a pilot can work have been in chaos since late last year, when the pilots union at American Airlines asked whether it was legal for a plane to push back from the gate with a cockpit crew member who knew, because of foreseeable delays on the ground or en route, that he or she would be working more than 16 hours by the time the plane landed. The F.A.A. answered that this was against its rules.

American then sent a letter to its pilots saying that the matter was under dispute and that until it was resolved, it had the aviation agency's permission to follow its past practice. The F.A.A. denied giving any such permission, but took no action against American.

The agency said today, in a statement, that "based on current information, the F.A.A. is confident that, overall, the airline industry complies with the current F.A.A. rules on pilot time limitations and rest requirements."

But a spokeswoman, Alison Duqette, said no one would speak on the record about how the agency knew this. Pilots maintain that they face strong pressure from their managers not to refuse to fly.

The agency has been trying for years to rewrite its basic rule on duty times, but as is often the case when the parties it regulates cannot reach agreement — in this case, the pilots and the airlines — it has not published a new rule.

At the Air Transport Association, the trade asociation of the major airlines, Michael Wascom, a spokesman, said that what the F.A.A. had done was not to vow to enforce an existing rule, but to issue a new one, without allowing for industry comment.

And the new rule, he said, "could result in significant financial impact to the airlines, without any measurable benefit to the traveling and shipping public, and, more importantly, without any enhancement to safety."

"Flights canceled based on an inappropriate reading of the regulations will disrupt travel for the flying public, particularly as we head into the busy summer travel season," Mr. Wascom said

Richard Rubin of the Allied Pilots Association, a captain whose letter last year triggered the F.A.A. action, said today in a telephone interview that some carriers would have to make major changes to comply, including Comair, Delta's regional carrier affiliate.

The pilot who was fired worked for Pan Am, the name used by a three- year-old airline based in New Hampshire. The pilot, Donald T. Simonds, a captain and 27-year airline veteran, refused to fly a Boeing 727 home from Sanford, Fla., because, although the original schedule was legal, delays on the first few flights meant he would be working 17 hours by the time he landed. The airline's vice president and general counsel, John Nadolny, said today that his union had requested arbitration, under the contract.

Mr. Rubin, of the American union, said, "Sixteen hours by itself is way too much time for anybody to be performing a sensitive occupation." Mr. Simonds did not respond to a message left on his home phone number today.

Mr. Rubin, who said he had been in contact with the pilot and the pilot's union, said that the F.A.A. had fined the airline $30,000 but that the airline was still threatening to fire its other pilots if they refused to fly when delays stretched out their day.

"Why do you permit a carrier to keep flying when they're firing their pilots and not bringing them back?" Mr. Rubin asked.

But Mr. Nadolny said the airline had not been fined. The F.A.A. refused to speak about the dispute on the record.


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