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Flying on Empty: Pilots and Airlines Disagree on Rest Time

Aired September 14, 2000 - 1:05 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: In China, Shanghai Airport closed after a plane skidded off the runway and got stuck in the mud, 191 passengers crew were onboard. They all are fine. Chinese authorities are investigating this.

Back in the United States, major airlines are taking a closer look at what some folks say is a persistent and potentially deadly problem: pilot fatigue.

Here's CNN's Carl Rochelle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This crash, American Airlines Flight 1420, helped trigger a closer look at pilot fatigue. The crew had worked more than 13 hours before attempting to land during a thunderstorm in Little Rock. The plane skidded off the runway, killing the captain and 10 others.

Pilots say flying tired has become a fact of life.

CAPT. DUANE WOERTH, PRES., AIRLINE PILOTS' ASSN.: There are crews that tonight will get a maximum of five hours of sleep before they are up and flying at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow. That's a fact. It happens every single day.

ROCHELLE: Pilots and airlines disagree on how much rest time is enough. Most pilots' duty day is 14 hours, set by union contract. The Air Transport Association, which represents major U.S. airlines, says it is creating a scientific panel to study pilot fatigue.

CAROL HALLETT, PRES., AIR TRANSPORT ASSN.: We are calling for the establishment of clear duty limits. Now, under the current regulations, what is going on is that you do, in fact, have flight time that is regulated and duty time can be unlimited.

ROCHELLE: Part of the controversy is over what constitutes duty time. Pilots say it should include any time they are on duty, even if they are on standby. The airlines say that's not clear.

MARK ROSEKIND, CHMN., AIR TRANSPORT ASSN. ALERTNESS INITIATIVE: How long is an appropriate duty day? How does that change when you do it at night versus crossing time zones? It gets very complex in the real world. ROCHELLE: The pilots union wants duty time regulated by the FAA and says the airlines are trying to delay that by creating another study.

WOERTH: We just need a decision, and we don't need any more delays in getting that decision.

ROCHELLE (on camera): The FAA says there won't be any more delays. After five years of study, it is expected to issue its ruling on duty days early next year.

Carl Rochelle, CNN, Reagan National Airport.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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