The union representing Air Wisconsin pilots says the regional airline intends to punish pilots for not accepting flight duty period (FDP) extensions that can extend the work day an extra 90 min. beyond the normal work hours prescribed by the FAA when weather or other issues cause delays.

"In our view, the company’s action in going forward with a new policy to utilize punitive measures should a pilot not accept a request for an FDP extension constitutes pilot-pushing," says the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) master executive council representing Air Wisconsin pilots in a May 7 letter.

ALPA was reacting to a May 7 letter from Air Wisconsin chief pilot Edward Leverton describing how the company had previously taken a "fairly lenient approach" to pilots that have been "intentionally" failing to follow company policies and procedures for FDP extensions. "In the future, the Company will take additional steps if a pilot deliberately refuses to comply with [rules] in regards to FDP extensions," says Leverton.

The argument centers in part on differing interpretations of the FAA’s new Part 117 flight crew duty and rest rules, which went into effect in January this year. The rules require airlines to implement a variety of measures to prevent pilots from "accumulating dangerous amounts of fatigue," which has been linked to accidents. Part 117 specifies how long a pilot can work on a given day, but makes exceptions for up to two hours additional duty time, provided the pilots will not exceed cumulative flight time limits. When the pilots’ duty day is extended beyond 30 min., airlines must report the event to the FAA within 10 days, describing the circumstances that led to the FDP extension, and if within the airline’s control, how it can prevent the issue from reoccurring.

Air Wisconsin is requiring its 670 pilots to report the reason for denying an FDP extension, regardless of whether it is based on fatigue or other concerns about the upcoming flight.

"The guidance from the FAA explicitly enables the Company to investigate all reasons the crewmember determines he or she is not fit-for-duty, including the cause of fatigue," says Leverton.

ALPA however argues that the FAA guidance Leverton cites does not apply to situations where the pilots deny an extension due to reasons other than fatigue. Even if the pilots are fatigued, they may be hesitant to opt out of a flight as Air Wisconsin does not have "a mechanism" for paying them for a fatigue event, says ALPA. That could leave them deciding between losing pay, being disciplined or accepting the FDP and flying against their better judgment.

"Although the chief pilot did not disclose the nature of the disciplinary measure it will likely involve at a minimum an [investigative hearing] and an official disciplinary letter in the offending pilot’s personnel file," says ALPA in its letter. "The chief pilot knows that pilots are interested in clean records in order to move on to other carriers and that this measure could harm pilots’ prospects. Thus, it appears that the company is intent upon coercing the pilot or crew into accepting an FDP and continuing to fly regardless of the circumstances."

Sean Cassidy, ALPA first vice president, says he hopes the letters "prompt a sit-down" between the FAA, ALPA and Air Wisconsin to clarify the differing Part 117 interpretations.

"They are the key to this whole thing," Cassidy says of the FAA.