The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration proposed today to slightly reduce the number of consecutive hours a commercial airplane pilot can fly and moderately increase the number of consecutive hours pilots have to rest before returning to the cockpit. If the rules-changes are adopted, they'll go into effect in August 2011 for U.S.-based operators.
As with practically everything in civil aviation, the proposal is controversial. Shaving an hour off the allowable number of consecutive hours for flying - to 15, down from 16 - and boosting consecutive hours off by about 25 percent to 30 hours - wouldn't seem to be a big deal. But passenger airlines and operators of cargo and charter flights say this would hurt productivity and complicate scheduling.
Of course, it might also enhance safety, which is the idea. Pilot fatigue has been cited as a contributing factor in a number of plane crashes - and fatal cargo and passenger crashes in recent months have shaken many from their complacency about occupying a hurtling metal tube in the sky. Air travel is still very safe, but it is not perfect, and you really don't want the pilot of your plane to be dozing at the controls. Simply put, this rules-change is a good idea.
A public comment period now begins, running till next August. To comment, go to the agency's Web site: http://www.faa.gov/.