The "fatigue summit " was held in 2005 and hosted by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing flight attendants at American Airlines, and Transport Workers Union Local 556, representing flight attendants at Southwest Airlines. The meeting was held at American Association of Flight Attendants-CWA headquarters outside Dallas. (Flight Attendants Hold Summit on Job Fatigue, Hours)
One of the central issues on the table was a critique of the Federal Aviation Administration regulations promulgated in 1996, which required flight attendants to have eight to nine hour rest periods. However, as has already been referred to, these 'rest periods' included time taken for transportation to and from airports as well as the time taken for meals etc. Therefore, this FAA regulation was seen as being insufficient to deal with the very real problem of fatigue. (Flight Attendants Hold Summit on Job Fatigue, Hours) at this meeting, the AFA-CWA President, Patricia Friend, stated that, "
Flight attendants end up with only five or six hours to sleep, and oftentimes less. Airlines are cutting every corner to keep flight attendants on duty, and that's affecting our health and raising concerns over our ability to properly safeguard our passengers.
Flight Attendants Hold Summit on Job Fatigue, Hours)
In other words, while the airlines were in line with the FFA regulations, these regulations did not take into account the designation of these rest periods -a fact that did not allow for sufficient time to deal with fatigue. The meeting concluded with a proposal to the FFA to revise the standard regulations with regard to the rest period for flight attendants. "They would like the FAA to reduce the maximum duty time for flight attendants, and increase the minimum rest period "(Flight Attendant Fatigue).
Another very important outcome of this meeting was that feeling or impression that the authorities and the 'powers that be' were not as concerned about the situation as they could or should have been. This was a feeling that was expressed at subsequent meetings and discussions by various unions about the failure to the FFA and government to deal with this issue with any sense of real immediacy.
For example, one report stresses that, "...there is hardly a more important topic than fatigue. I can't help but wonder, though, if "the powers that be" will listen to the flight attendants about their need for more rest," which led to the assumption that "..."they" do not really care" (Flight Attendant Fatigue). These feeling and suspicious were increased by certain events that took place in 2004 and 2005. One of the most significant from the point-of-view of the flight attendants unions was that in march, 2005, the Department of Transportation held a scheduled "Fatigue in the Workplace" seminar but did not invite and Flight Attendant representatives to that conference. (Flight Attendant Fatigue).
In 2006, the AFA-CWA won a legal action with regard to the Fatigue Study, which led to the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee authorizing $500,000 for a research study on the effects of flight attendant fatigue, based on a report by the Federal Aviation Administration. This would be followed up when the results were submitted to Congress by December 31, 2008. (AFA-CWA Wins Action on Fatigue Study, 2006) However, the publication and approval of the much-delayed report came about only through the intense efforts and pressures exerted by the flight attendant unions. In fact, the AFA-CWA flight attendants demonstrated and slept outside the FAA headquarters to motivate the release of the study.
After more than a year of concerted lobbying and pressure for the unions, the FAA released the Flight Attendant Fatigue Study to congress. The study had been due for release to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in 2005 but repeated calls for its release by the AFA-CWA had been ignored. "The FAA delayed release of the report for over one year, even though the study itself was completed. The FAA repeatedly ignored requests from AFA-CWA and members of Congress to release the report and explain the delay in reviewing the study by the Administrator's office" (TESTIMONY of PATRICIA a. FRIEND INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT ASSOCIATION of FLIGHT ATTENDANTS...)
The report confirmed many of the views and the suggestions made by the AFA, among others. The results...
"...based on the incident reports, flight attendant comments, and the outcomes from the sampling of actual duty and rest time, it appears that the opportunities for adequate rest for flight attendants need to be further evaluated." (FAA RELEASES FLIGHT ATTENDANT FATIGUE STUDY AFTER HEAVY PRESSURE FROM AFA-CWA)
The emergence of the report after such a long period raises the question, why had it taken so long for its release even after repeated requests by the flight attendant unions and bodies. Nevertheless, the release of the report was seen by many as the "first step" towards the resolution of the problem. "Now it is time to move forward and take the steps necessary to end flight attendant fatigue and enact meaningful regulations that would help solve this problem" (FAA RELEASES FLIGHT ATTENDANT FATIGUE STUDY AFTER HEAVY PRESSURE FROM AFA-CWA).
An important aspect to emerge from this report was that the congress as well as the general public was now fully aware of the importance and the risk of fatigue for flight attendants in for the industry." Flight Attendants, Congress and the flying public can finally see the compelling facts that support AFA's efforts to improve rest requirements for Flight Attendants" (Flight Attendant Fatigue Report Available).
Another important aspect of the findings was that there was an acknowledgment of the fact that the existing FFA regulations with regard to flight attendant fatigue and safety were inadequate. Furthermore, it was found in the report that in order to address fatigue realistically it was important to combine regulations with "sound and realistic operational practices," and personal strategies. (Flight Attendant Fatigue Report Available) Another important recommendation was that, the FAA-imposed six to eight-month period for researchers to conduct the study was found to be inadequate and a more detailed study was needed. (Flight Attendant Fatigue Report Available)
As welcome as the report was, it did not however implement any practical measures as such and only suggest that more "detailed studies" are undertaken. Therefore, efforts continued on the part of the unions to work towards the actual acceptance and implementation of concrete measure to reduce fatigue among flight attendants. For instance at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Aviation in 2007, the AFA-CWA President, Patricia Friend, and others reiterated the view that, "... Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules on flight crew fatigue fall far short of what is needed to ensure passenger safety" (Congress Takes Up Safety Issues for Airline Passengers, First Responders).
On the other hand it must also be noted the FFA is under no obligation to accept the recommended list of improvements by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Towards recommendations and solutions
Central to the debate about fatigue in the aviation industry is the assertion that the FAA regulations in this regard are not adequate. One of the reasons given for this state of affairs is that these regulations governing duty and rest times dates back to the 1930s. In other words, FAA regulations relate to an older world before the contemporary advances in aviation industry, which includes the changes in the concomitant demands on aviation staff. "Other than a modest revision in 1985, they still reflect the era before globe-spanning jetliners replaced piston-powered fleets" (Pilots and Fatigue). As a result, the regulations of the FAA do not "... reflect the extensive research by NASA in the 1990's into fatigue. " (Pilots and Fatigue).
The fact that the FAA regulations are based on an older view of the industry may go someway to account for their lack of relevance in the contemporary aviation environment today - although this still does not explain the reluctance to the release the recent research study. This perspective is also supported by the views expressed to the 2007 Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Aviation
Airliners can cover 12 to 14 time zones, for more than 16 hours of continuous flight, easily traveling more than 9,000 miles. And so-called regional jets fly coast to coast. This different world requires different rules. Unfortunately, current FAA rules do not adequately address fatigue research, circadian rhythms, and realistic sleep and rest requirements. (Congress Takes Up Safety Issues for Airline Passengers, First Responders)
It is clear that the present situation can lead to sleep deficit, chronic health and attention problems in both pilots and crew in modern aviation. As one expert states, there is a serious need for the National Transport…
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