General aviation

Mixed reaction to new Canadian aviation fatigue rules

Air Georgian Limited announced today they support the amendments to the Pilot Flight, Duty, and Fatigue/Rest times. (CNW Group/Air Georgian Limited)
  • New rules reduce maximum permitted work periods for pilots
  • Since the early 1990s, fatigue has contributed to 34 air mishaps in Canada
  • Pilots say new rules leave Canada far behind the United States

Reaction is mixed to new rules governing pilot fatigue announced Wednesday by the federal government. While it’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction, some question whether new work hour limits go far enough.

Under new regulations published by Transport Canada, pilots will now be allowed to fly up to 1000 hours a year, with tighter restrictions on how long pilots can work any given day. It’s the first time in 20 years that the federal government has rewritten the rules around how much pilots can work, and how long they’re required to rest.

The rules also give airlines an alternative. They can set up what’s called a fatigue risk management system that identifies the risk of pilots working extended hours and introduce measures to mitigate those risks.

The Air Canada Pilots Association is slamming the measures, saying they are substandard, particularly for overnight overseas flights, and they will take too long to implement. ACPA says the Canadian maximum will be two hours more than what pilots in the United States are allowed to fly, and the association also worries it will be too easy for airlines to get around the rules, by implementing their own systems.

“It is unbelievable that in the face of scientific evidence and international best practice our government expects pilots to fly two hours longer than what NASA says is safe.” – Matt Hogan, ACPA

The Transportation Safety Board is welcoming the announcement. The agency put fatigue on its watchlist for 2018 as one of the most serious hazards facing the transportation industry. The TSB says fatigue contributed to 34 aviation incidents in Canada since the early 1990s.

Indeed, the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States says fatigue contributed to a near-disaster in 2017, when an Air Canada A320 came within 100 feet of landing on a taxiway packed full of planes lining up to depart from San Francisco.

Transport Canada is getting support from some in the industry. Westjet says it welcomes the changes and will implement them over the next 24 months. Air Georgian, which operates flights on behalf of Air Canada Express, says the changes are a good first step.

Transport minister Marc Garneau is defending the changes.

“Transport Canada’s new regulations align with today’s scientific data, international standards and best practices, and respond to concerns raised by communities, pilots and airlines. By providing air operators the option to implement Fatigue Risk Management Systems, these new regulations also recognize the unique operations and realities of Canadian air operators.” – Marc Garneau, Transport Minister

Transport Canada is also increasing the time pilots are required to wait after they’ve had a drink before they are allowed to fly. Former regulations imposed an 8-hour “bottle to throttle.” That has now been increased to 12 hours.

The changes will be implemented over the next 24 months for larger carriers. Smaller operations will have four years to comply.