FAA Misses Another Pilot Fatigue Deadline

New rules meant to curb pilots flying on little sleep.

Dec. 2, 2011 — -- The Federal Aviation Administration has missed another deadline for implementing new rules aimed at protecting travelers from pilot fatigue, a decades-long and potentially deadly problem.

The proposed safety rules would significantly reduce work hours for pilots who make countless number of takeoffs and landings per day, often operating on little to no quality sleep.

An ABC News investigation earlier this year revealed pilots across the country struggling to even get "destructive sleep" in crew lounges and so-called "crash pads" before taking commercial aircrafts into the skies, sometimes with hundreds of passengers aboard. Current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep mid-flight. In the past 20 years, more than two dozen accidents and more than 250 fatalities have been linked to pilot fatigue, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

READ: Tired Skies: Pilots Fatigue and 'Crash Pads' Threaten the Safety of Airline Passengers

The FAA was originally scheduled to decide on the new rules by Aug. 1 but that day came and went without new regulations. A new deadline was set on the government docket for Nov. 30, but the FAA failed to meet it as well.

The FAA told ABC News that despite the missed deadline, it is "working aggressively" to implement the "most sweeping rule in aviation history to combat pilot fatigue." The administration did not say when the new rules might be implemented.

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According to the proposed rules, there would be an increase in the rest period between shifts for pilots, which is currently eight hours, and a decrease in the maximum length of a pilot's workday. Pilots are currently allowed to be on duty for up to 16 hours.

One reason for the missed deadline, according to a government official, is that the White House Office of Management and Budget is still reviewing the economic viability and impact of the new rules and has asked the FAA to work on minimizing impact on the airlines. An official at the OMB said the office was working closely with the FAA on the rules and expected it to be finalized "very soon."

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Following the missed August deadline, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-New York, sent a letter to the FAA in which he placed some of the blame on the airline industry.

"I know that there are efforts on the part of [the airline] industry to weaken these rules by stalling their implementation and undercutting their intent," Schumer wrote. "This is unacceptable."

A representative for Airlines for America, the major trade group for airlines formerly known as the Air Transport Association, told ABC News, "We believe the rules need to be changed and [we] continue to advocate for rules that are based on science and are proven to improve safety."

One vocal group pushing for the implementation of the new rules are the families of those who died when Continental's Colgan Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, New York, in 2009. The National Transportation Safety Board initially linked pilot fatigue to the crash. Later, internal Colgan emails reportedly raised questions about the pilot's training.

"For nearly three years now we have heard [Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood and [FAA] Administrator [Randy] Babbitt say that this is the top priority," the families said in a joint statement. "All we can say is that our patience is wearing thin. The time for lip service is long past and now is the time to step up to the plate and deliver."

Scott Maurer, who lost his 31-year-old daughter Lorin in the crash, said the families won't stop pushing for the government to move ahead with the new rules.

"Every day that goes by where passengers in this country are allowed to board regional airlines where pilots may be lucky to get five or six hours of sleep the night prior is another disaster waiting to happen," he said.

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