There was a lot of press lately about the FAA, under pressure from Congress, raising the nuber of hours pilots must be allowed to rest between flights. For years, the rule was eight hours of rest before flying and, starting Dec 2013, it will be raised to ten. This was a result of several crashes where tired pilots seem to have contributed to the accident through fatigue dulling their flying and mental capacity.
Lesser publicized is that the cargo airlines received an exception to these rules and get to keep flying their pilots with only eight hours rest. News article here. So theoretically, a pilot could be required to fly from midnight to 0800, rest until 1600 and then fly another eight hours. I am not a pilot, but have worked long hours like these, and admit that I am not at my best when doing so. The reason the cargo airlines were exempted was that they cited that they are not hauling hundreds of passengers around therefore they are risking less lives. Wow, really makes life as a cargo pilot sound like you are expendable!
I thought I would check these standards against the military standards (since this is a military related blog) and was surprised at the results. I used USAF standards for reference and found that they mandate 12 hours of crew rest! Although that can be reduced to ten for certain reasons. Admittedly, USAF is not trying to turn a profit, but I expect there is quite a bit of science behind their standards and wonder why commercial aviation thinks their pilots are tougher or can operate safer.
Of course, “rest” is a relative term. While the airlines mandate an eight or ten hours rest period, there is no enforcement that this consist of restful sleep. I remember seeing a whitle blower video of commecial pilots “resting” and it looked a lot like trying to sleep in an airport lounge which I know from personal expereince does not really regenerate your body’s energy. Of course, I can say that when I was younger I would run into fellow lieutenants who had flown thier fighters across the country for “training” but really used the time to party all weekend in a nice location. I heard storied from them about waking each other up when they were flying back because they were exhausted.
I would be interested in what you all thought about this subject including any personal expereinces you have had with tired pilots either civilain or military. Personally, I would sleep better on the flight knowing that my pilot is fully rested.