American, Continental, United, US Airways, and JetBlue are suing the FAA to block new crew rest rules aimed at addressing pilot fatigue. The airlines claim the FAA bypassed procedures that would have allowed the airlines to comment on the proposed rules, and therefore essentially forced "substantial burdens and costs" on the carriers.
Pilot fatigue has become a bigger issue recently as more U.S. carriers add service to Asia, where routes can run 16 hours or more. According to the AP, American's pilots' union "refused to endorse American's bid for an extra route to China [in 2006] when the airline refused to negotiate over pay for canceled flights and other concessions. The flights between Dallas and Beijing would have exceeded limits on flying time and workday length under the pilots' contract."
While money is certainly at the center of the issue for the airlines, they are trying to focus attention on the FAA's disregard for procedure. American's spokesman Tim Wagner told the AP that the FAA should have followed procedure, which would have allowed for dialogue between airlines and the organization. "We believe that the safest rules come from that process," Wagner said, "because the FAA itself becomes more knowledgeable and better educated through the comment period."
But Scott Shankland, an airline pilots' spokesman, said "We find it unconscionable that American would fight this thing," while FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said, "It makes sense for airlines to use an FAA-approved program based on the latest science—circadian rhythm and time-zone changes—to reduce the risk of fatigue to flight crews." Still, Continental pilots, who have flown between Newark and Hong Kong for years, sided with their airline and say Continental's minimum-rest policy was adequate.
For me, the bottom line is that even though the FAA should have included the airlines in the creation of a new policy, pilot fatigue is a serious issue that needed to be addressed. The airlines can and perhaps should voice their displeasure over the process, but it's starting to sound like they're complaining about the cost of keeping people safe. And that certainly is not a message they want to convey.