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Proposed rules irk airlines

Proposed rules requiring more mandatory breaks, longer rest periods and tighter limits on duty-time for flight crews across the Canada have Northern airlines insisting to be heard.

“I’ve never seen the industry more concerned about any issue,” said Glenn Priestley, executive director of the Northern Air Transportation Association (NATA).

The deadline for feedback was Friday and NATA, in conjunction with professional and national aviation associations around Canada, made a large submission last week. They’re hoping to convince Transport Canada to provide for flexibility in the final regulations, which will be be announced next year.

One of the most contentious aspects of the new set of rules, which centre around preventing pilot fatigue, has to do with time spent on duty – not flying, necessarily, but time spent at work.

Right now, 36 consecutive hours of rest must be provided within seven consecutive days of flying. The new rules stipulate 33 hours, but they must begin at 10:30 p.m. As well, there would be a new maximum of three nights of duty in a row without one rest taken during the night.

Plus, allowable time spent on duty would lessen with the amount of flights flown during one shift.

The membership of NATA is comprised of airlines from across the three territories, including all that operate in the NWT.

Priestley cites an example of some summer work done by Northern airlines, picking up fuel from barges and shuttling it to mining and exploration camps.

“An aircraft will do 10, 12 trips a day,” said Priestley. “Because of these new parameters, what we used to do in one day will now take three days.”

Air Tindi president Alasdair Martin said his company has striven to create a culture where pilots and management are free to openly discuss what conditions are needed for to avoid fatigue becoming an issue.

“We’re looking for practical solutions that meet the same intent,” says Martin. “We’re certainly not battling the concept of managing fatigue and making sure all our air crew are fit for duty.”

“It’s a lot different to be flying multiple flights from Calgary to Toronto and back, versus just doing shuttles in an area where no one else is flying.”

Priestley says mandatory, inflexible rest periods may cause more harm than good to some pilots. Often, pilots live in the south and are deployed to the North on rotation. New regulations on duty time and mandatory rest periods, given the remote locations throughout the North, Priestley says pilots who are currently working two weeks deployed and two weeks at home may now need to work three weeks deployed and one week at home to make the same pay.

“They will be flying less and deployed longer,” he says.

In an email response to News/North, Transport Canada media relations advisor Julie Leroux states these new regulations are “based on the latest science” and more in line with international standards and best practices.

As the rules stand, she stated, they include means for airlines to adopt a Fatigue Risk Management System. This could permit flight crews to fly longer than the new requirements allow, if the airlines can prove that alertness is maintained and fatigue is not a risk.

“This could be an option for Northern operators,” she stated.

Priestley said he is optimistic that operators and the government will reach a middle ground.

“I do believe that everybody’s trying to do the right thing,” said Priestley. “We’re trying to come to rules that work.”