New Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL) rules

News Excerpt:

Recently, aviation safety regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation, asked Indian airlines to indicate when they would be in a position to implement the new Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL) rules, which include longer mandatory rest periods among other mitigation measures for better management of stress and fatigue among pilots.

Deferment of new FDTL rules: 

  • In a move, the DGCA on March 26 deferred the planned implementation of the new FDTL rules from June 1. 
    • The decision to postpone was in line with directions issued to the DGCA by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) on March 22. 
    • The aviation safety regulator announced the postponement without mentioning a new implementation timeline, and allowed carriers to continue following the existing FDTL rules till the time their own schemes as per the new rules are approved.

What will happened if rules implementation will be delayed:

  • Flight crew fatigue and exhaustion are seen as major factors contributing to human errors in aircraft operations, which can lead to catastrophic accidents. Also, fatigue and exhaustion can be dangerous for the health of the crew. 
    • The DGCA had, in fact, cited a few incidents of pilot deaths ostensibly due to exhaustion while pushing airlines to adhere to the new regulations from June 1.
  • Across airlines, pilots have been expressing concerns over growing fatigue and stress as a result of being stretched to their limits in terms of flying hours, haphazard and ill-planned rostering, and unusually high crew utilisation levels as carriers compete to rapidly expand their networks. 
    • Some of these issues were among the reasons behind numerous Vistara pilots calling in sick last week, leading to network-wide cancellations and delays for the airline.

Importance of FDTL rules:

  • FDTL rules prohibit airlines from asking flight crew to operate a flight if the prescribed time limitations are exceeded. 
  • Among other things, the regulations stipulate mandatory rest periods between flight duty periods, in-flight rest periods for long-haul flights, other mandatory rest periods, guidelines for scheduling night operations, and maximum cumulative flight time and duty period limitations per week, two weeks, four weeks, 90 days, and one year. 
    • The rules also include special norms for ultra-long-haul flights.

Key Changes:

  • As per the new rules, among other changes, mandatory weekly rest period for pilots shall increase to 48 hours from the current 36, and their night flying shall also come down through a combination of extension of definition of ‘night’ by an hour and curtailing the number of night landings allowed to be made by the same crew.
  • Clearly, these rules would require airlines to either hire and train more pilots in order to maintain their existing scale of operations. The alternative would be to scale back operations.

Concern of Airlines: 

  • Airline officials lament that hiring, training, and releasing pilots for duty is a process that takes several months, and a hard deadline that gives only a few months to the carriers would impact their operations and business.
  • Those in favour of expeditious implementation of the new rules argue that airlines had enough time to prepare for the June 1 deadline as the new rules were notified early January and the carriers were ostensibly sounded out much before that by the DGCA through the consultative process on the new rules.
  • Airlines had been voicing concerns that implementation of the new rules—aimed at better fatigue management through changes like longer weekly rest periods and fewer night landings as compared to the current norms—would result in a requirement of around 20-25 per cent more pilots, whom they would not be able to hire and train in such a short period.

Overview of current FDTL rules in India

  • The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) mandates that the country where an aircraft operator or airline is based shall establish regulations for the purpose of managing fatigue.
  • Current FDTL rules in India, which were issued in 2019, stipulate different categories of maximum flight duty periods per day based on maximum permitted landings and flight time. 
  • According to the DGCA, airlines are required to establish their own limitations on these counts within the regulator’s framework of fatigue management regulations, which are based on ICAO standards and best practices of the US aviation regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
  • In addition, carriers are not supposed to ask a crew member to operate a flight if it is known or suspected that the “flight crew member is fatigued to the extent that the safety of flight may be adversely affected”. Airlines are also required to prepare flight crew rosters “sufficiently in advance”.
  • In addition to training flight crew on fatigue management, carriers are required to maintain a system of fatigue report management, using which incidents of crew fatigue can be brought to light. 
    • Such a system should follow a non-punitive and confidential policy, which should also define the response to a fatigue report. 
    • Executive responsibility for addressing fatigue management needs to be defined by the airline.
  • The key reason why there are frequent instances of pilots refusing to operate flights citing fatigue or FDTL norms is that the DGCA’s regulations on FDTL stipulate the responsibility and accountability of flight crews as well. 
    • The regulations expressly prohibit flight crew members from accepting assignments that exceed the prescribed limitations. 
    • Additionally, they are also not supposed to perform duties if it is known or suspected that they are fatigued.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

  • The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a United Nations agency which helps 193 countries to cooperate together and share their skies to their mutual benefit.
  • It was established in 1944.
  • Since it was established, ICAO’s support and coordination has helped countries to diplomatically and technically realize a uniquely rapid and dependable network of global air mobility, connecting families, cultures, and businesses all over the world, and promoting sustainable growth and socio-economic prosperity wherever aircraft fly. 
  • ICAO is innovating itself to answer this call, and expanding its partnerships among UN and technical stakeholders to deliver a strategic global vision and effective, sustainable solutions.

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