Report: FAA Should Address Pilot Commutes

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A report released Wednesday by the National Research Council found that commuting practices among airline pilots "could potentially contribute to their fatigue," and since fatigue can reduce performance, pilots, airlines, and the FAA should take steps to reduce the chance that commuting will pose a safety risk. The report stopped short of recommending new regulations, and said a lack of data hampered the analysis. "Some commutes have the potential to contribute to fatigue in pilots, and fatigue can pose a safety risk, but at this point we simply don't know very much about actual pilots' commuting practices," said Clint Oster, chair of the research committee. "Airlines and FAA should gather more information on pilots' commutes, and also work with pilots to lower the likelihood that fatigue from commuting will be a safety risk." The report also offers suggestions to commuting pilots about best practices that could help to minimize fatigue.

Pilots should plan their off-duty activities so they are awake no more than about 16 hours at the end of their duty shift, the report suggests. Also, they should try to sleep for at least six hours before reporting for duty. Airlines should consider enacting policies that would help pilots plan more predictable, less tiring commutes. The report was requested by Congress due to concerns that arose about commuting and fatigue during the investigation of the Colgan Air crash in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009. The complete report can be read online -- go to the National Academies website, and scroll down to find the Table of Contents.