Charter Pilots Are Tired Of Rolling Rest; Is Enforcement Coming?
With the increase in private charter demand due to the post COVID travel surge, Part 135 pilots are flying longer days and piling on more flight hours, increasing the likelihood for fatigue. For some of these pilots, acute and chronic fatigue may reach dangerous levels.
The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly cited fatigue as the probable cause or a contributing factor in many aviation accidents and identified fatigue as the probable cause of nearly 20% of transportation accident investigations overall. Compounding the fatigue risks, many Part 135 pilots are being subjected to illegal “rolling rest” schedules that have gone largely unenforced over the 36 years since rest and duty rules were created.
FAR Part 135.267 requires that certificate holders assign duty periods and rest prospectively. Rest periods must be protected from the obligation to work so that pilots know when they can sleep and prepare for the day or night ahead of duty. Being on-call or in constant flux is a recipe for extremely fatigued crews.
Part 135 operators have struggled for years to properly staff unscheduled, on-demand operations with FARs that require pre-assigned schedules for crews. But nonetheless, uninterrupted pre-assigned rest periods are a legal requirement and a requirement for safe operations. Many operators have defaulted to scheduling practices that keep flight crew members on standby 24 hours a day. While some air carriers duty-off crews and leave them in rest indefinitely, others may simply give crews a 10-hour rest period and continue to extend their rest hours indefinitely.
One pilot has written to the FAA requesting a formal letter of interpretation on allowing rolling rest to continue. In the letter, the pilot asks if rolling rest operations are being allowed by principal operations inspectors (POI), and why isn’t the POI “held accountable for the violation”? (Orellana, 2015). The letter responds: “Whether a POI should be held accountable for not enforcing a requirement is an internal agency matter and is separate and apart from a certificate holder’s duty to comply with the regulations.” It asks the requestor to report the violation to higher levels of the FAA or the safety hotline (Orellana, 2015). Unfortunately, it’s easy for operators to show 10 hours of rest prior to duty on paper, but there is no legal requirement for operators to document when they are assigned rest, making enforcement extremely difficult for POIs.
The Orellana highlights not only a lack of understanding from operators on the rules but even those charged with enforcing the rules day to day. Even as recently as 2018, a letter to the FAA asks, “Is on-call standby considered rest?”. The letter responds that “The FAA has addressed the issue of rest requirements and on-call standby for Part 135 operators in multiple letters of interpretation […]. The FAA has held that the practice of Part 135 operators requiring pilots to be on-call or on standby status while awaiting a possible assignment of flight duty, is not rest…” (Kalantari, 2018).
It’s illegal and dangerous, but rolling rest is standard operating procedure at many Part 135 operations.
In 2019, I set out to investigate just how common rolling rest has become. In an anonymous survey of more than 130 pilots, 43% reported that they do not receive prospective rest and, incredibly, 58% admitted they have flown for an air carrier that has operated a “rolling rest” policy in the last 10 years. Rolling rest operators are either unknowingly breaking the law, or simply do it because “everyone else does”, jumping on the bandwagon. This creates an unlevel playing field for charter operators that do follow the rules and an extremely dangerous operating environment for crews that simply don’t know when to sleep.
Is there an end to rolling rest in sight? There may be new hope. Through congressional mandate, the FAA was asked to form an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to address rest and duty rules; this ARC’s charter ends July of this month. This is the second ARC formed to address rest and duty rules in the Part 135 industry. While details of the discussions of the ARC and full recommendation report are still confidential, the charter specifically asks the committee to “identify the effectiveness and deficiencies of the current Part 135 framework.” The FAA has also indicated it will soon address tail-end ferries in Part 135 through rulemaking, addressing long duty day risks associated with Part 91 legs home (FAA).
There are many things for the ARC, and the FAA, to consider in overhauling the rest and duty in Part 135. If nothing else, enforceability of the rules must be the central focus. Without enforcement of the simple rules of 135.267 today, adding new regulatory requirements will hurt lawful operators and pilot fatigue will continue to soar.
Are you being forced into a rolling rest schedule? You can report your safety concerns to the FAA and request to keep your identity confidential: Call (202) 267- 3934 or email [email protected].
Jessie Naor is chief operating officer of GrandView Aviation. She is currently a member of the FAA’s Duty & Rest rulemaking committee, responsible for recommending regulatory changes to the agency on behalf of industry, sits on the Board of Governors for the Air Charter Safety Foundation, and is vice-chair of the National Air Transportation Association’s Part 135 Committee.
March 2020 FAA fact sheet: https://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=11186
Charter extension issued on April 27th, 2021 - Recommendation Report due July 5th: https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/committees/document…;
Original rulemaking in 1985: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-1985-07-18/pdf/FR-1985-07-18.pdf “
Orellana Letter: https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/agc/practice_…;
Survey by Jessie Naor: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/yes-rolling-rest-still-exists-jessie-nao…;