News / Perspective
JetBlue Lengthened Shifts For Pilots On Some Transcontinental Passenger Flights (May NOT Include LB) For Two Weeks In 2005 To Collect Data On Pilot Fatigue; FAA NY Office OK'd It; FAA DC HQ Said NY Office Erred; Data Collection May Preview Future Effort To Urge Revising FAA Rules On Pilot Work Hours
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(Oct. 25, 2006) -- In what may be the opening move to a future effort to urge the FAA to revise its long-standing rules on the duration of pilot work hours, JetBlue Airways had some of its pilots work shifts beyond eight hours on some transcontinental flights for two weeks in 2005 -- using shift lengths permitted under FAA rules for passenger flights to Hawaii, Alaska, Canada and some cargo flights -- to collect data on pilot fatigue, an action OK'd by a NY FAA field office but not by FAA DC HQ...which halted it.
FAA spokeswoman Allison Duquette told LBReport.com that 54 flights were involved during the period May 3 through May 17, 2005 and routes involved NYC's JFK Airport/Oakland Airport and JFK Airport/Las Vegas Airport. The FAA didn't mention LB. JetBlue spokesperson Jenny Dervin told LBReport.com that the company isn't identifying the markets/routes involved...and cites the number as roughly 50 flights (disputing the calculation on four of the flights).
FAA spokeswoman Duquette indicated that in essence, JetBlue informed the local [NY] FAA office that they wanted to collect data for two weeks and the local NY FAA office approved it. FAA rules on pilot flight time for domestic scheduled flights are generally stricter [usually eight hours] than for other types of flights like cargo [and flights beyond continental U.S. and to Canada, JetBlue notes] and non-regularly scheduled flights which are legally longer under FAA Supplemental rules. The FAA DC HQ concluded that the FAA NY office erred in granting JetBlue permission to use the Supplemental Rules under the circumstances.
In an August 16, 2005 letter to JetBlue VP of Safety Steven Predmore, FAA's Assistant Principal Operations Inspector John O. Curtin wrote:
During the period May 3-17, 2005, JetBlue Airways dispatched a series of scheduled flights under Supplemental rules. On July 6, 2005, this office advised you that this matter was under investigation.
The investigation revealed that some employees were not certain of the meanings of Domestic and Supplemental rules and the flight and duty time rules that govern each. [In responding correspondence] you outlined revisions you intend to make to the Dispatch Manual and Flight Operations Manual to clarify the definition of Domestic and Supplemental Operations. Additionally, you are clarifying practices to ensure that the release of aircraft is in compliance with regulation.
In closing this case, we have given consideration to all available facts and conclude that the matter does not warrant legal enforcement action. In lieu of such action, we are issuing this letter, which will be made a matter of record.
So why did JetBlue want to collect the data in the first place?
"JetBlue is interested in the issue since we're in a position to help expand the dialogue on pilot fatigue and to define real solutions to mitigate pilot fatigue factors," Ms. Dervin said, adding that JetBlue is a stakeholder in this field...and while the FAA governs air regulation there may be other groups and committees that may also be interested in the data.
Ms. Dervin indicated the results of the data collection are scheduled to published and made publicly available in a peer-reviewed journal by the end of the year. That piece will be independently authored by a firm to which JetBlue gave the data...and JetBlue doesn't have the data now and doesn't know what it will show, Ms. Dervin said.
JetBlue has used that firm, Cupertino-based "Alertness Solutions" to develop the company's continuing alertness management program for its pilots. The firm describes itself on its website as a "scientific consulting firm that translates knowledge of sleep, circadian rhythms, alertness, and performance into practical strategies that improve safety and productivity in our 24-hour society."
JetBlue's Dervin said the carrier's alertness management program is education-based and provides pilots with information to help understand fatigue factors and to mitigate those factors. In general terms, the program shows pilots that the science of circadian rhythms, the effect of disruptive sleep on their overall sleep quality and includes a diagnostic tool to show pilots what may be interfering with their rest, she said.
[Perspective] An Oct. 21 Wall Street Journal piece (which broke the JetBlue story) notes that a future revision of the FAA regulations could give non-unionized JetBlue advantages over unionized competitors where union contracts may be more restrictive on shift hours than FAA rules. The WSJ piece added that the current FAA scheduling rules haven't been changed for years and airline executives and pilot union leaders have disagreed over what changes, if any, are in order.
Ms. Dervin said JetBlue takes exception to description of the carrier's action in the Wall Street Journal piece as a "test" in which passengers were "unwitting participants." In a follow-up email (invited by LBReport.com), Ms. Dervin stated for JetBlue:
JetBlue must clarify some of the descriptions used in the Wall Street Journal article: These were not "test" or "experimental" flights. These were JetBlue flights that the FAA permitted to be conducted under supplemental regulations. Supplemental flight rules are used regularly by most airlines, and are rightly considered safe and appropriate. JetBlue pilots during this data-collection period flew within legal limits.
I would also like to emphasize that the FAA was aware of our data collection plan and permitted the use of supplemental flight rules for these flights.
JetBlue's Alertness Management Program is designed to educate pilots on alertness solutions and awareness. For example - through diagnostic tools, a pilot can learn he may have early signs of sleep apnea, which may not have any effect on his ability to operate a flight safely, but it may have or may cause a change in his quality of life. Using the diagnostic tools from our program will give this pilot that awareness much sooner than simply waiting for sleep disruption, and through the program, we offer support and tools to mitigate or offset any quality of life disruption. It is important for pilots to have quality rest.
We take a science-based approach to alertness management, and in fact, because we feel this data is vital to better understanding of scheduling rules, we share the information with the rest of the industry. It is standard industry practice to share safety information without regard to competitiveness, and we completely support this practice.
Safety is JetBlue's bedrock value -- it is the fundamental promise we make, and keep, to our customers and crewmembers.
The analysis of the data collected will be presented in a scientific journal by the end of the year. The analysis was been completed by a third party, and JetBlue has not participated in the analysis.
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