Scott Dyer [HPN/NY]
(Top Gun)
10/31/06 11:15 AM
JetBlue Fatigue Experiment

I happened on a WSJ article from 10 days ago, about a JetBlue cockpit fatigue experiment with the blessing of local NY FAA officials that has 800 Indy in an uproar:

Last year, thousands of JetBlue Airways passengers became unwitting participants in a highly unusual test of pilot fatigue.

Without seeking approval from Federal Aviation Administration headquarters, consultants for JetBlue outfitted a small number of pilots with devices to measure alertness. Operating on a green light from lower-level FAA officials, management assigned the crews to work longer shifts in the cockpit -- as many as 10 to 11 hours a day -- than the eight hours the government allows. Their hope: Showing that pilots could safely fly far longer without exhibiting ill effects from fatigue.

The results of the test haven't yet been made public -- they are expected to be published by the end of the year -- and JetBlue executives say even they don't know the findings. But the experiment has landed JetBlue in hot water while fueling a fierce debate within the airline industry about how long pilots should be allowed to stay at the controls.

Basically, JBU was looking at whether domestic duty rules could be relaxed to international standards with the addition of a third cockpit crewmember.

The two-pilot crews were equipped with specially designed motion detectors on their wrists to measure activity, and participated in tests with hand-held computing devices that issued random prompts and then recorded the speed of responses. All told, JetBlue says 29 pilots, including the backup aviators, participated in more than 50 data-gathering flights during May 2005. All of the flights were domestic, and a big portion were coast-to-coast trips.

The carrier says it proceeded under the assumption that local FAA officials had the power to approve the company's plans under so-called supplemental flight rules. Those rules specify that airlines flying longer distances must have at least one extra pilot on board so no single pilot flies more than eight hours in total. However, in the JetBlue test, even though each flight had a third pilot on board, the original crews stayed at the controls for more than 10 hours a day. None of the reserve pilots ever replaced a regular crew member.

Interesting stuff.

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