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The Gorilla in the Hall

There are only a few issues that get operators as excited as flight and duty time limitations


January 30, 2012
By Fred Jones

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There are only a few issues that get operators as excited as flight and duty time limitations, and every seven or eight years (whether we need it or not), Transport Canada (TC) undertakes an overhaul of the Canadian regulations on this subject.

For the past 17 months, for about four days each month, the Helicopters Association of Canada (HAC) and members of other leading Canadian aviation associations have engaged in discussions with TC and other industry stakeholders over the fatigue management regulations in Canada.

What began as an effort to tweak the regulations to bring them in line with the latest fatigue-related science has turned into an overhaul of the CARs on this subject, not unlike the leaky faucet washer that turns in to a complete bathroom renovation.

Transport Canada’s regulations are all based on a level of safety that is commensurate with the number of certified seats in the aircraft. The concept forms the very foundation of our Canadian regulatory structure. No one expects the operator of a Cessna 172 to apply the same rules that the airlines use. Now, HAC doesn’t blame TC for wanting to look at the latest fatigue-related science, but to expect the helicopter industry to apply airline-type limits is simply too much.

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Admittedly, there are some absolute and common human requirements that should be considered across all levels of the commercial aviation community. Protecting eight hours of rest for the pilot for example, or the recuperative effect of a few consecutive days off, or the effect of disrupting a pilot’s circadian rhythm are all good examples.

There are many other areas where the science can provide some valuable guidance, but the application of those scientific principles must dovetail with industry segment-specific operational circumstances and operational experience. For example, it may work for the large scheduled international carriers to provide one day off in every seven for their crews, but there are other ways to mitigate fatigue. Helicopter operators generally conduct their businesses in a seasonal environment, and in remote areas that make it difficult to swap crews out every seven days for a day off, or double-crew a machine one day in seven.

Furthermore, we cannot apply flight and duty time rules that were designed for application by a crew-scheduling department in a pilot self-dispatch environment. Science can’t provide us with numbers for our regulations, as convenient as that may sound. They need operational experience to apply the principles that flow from their research in the real world. To their credit, in this round of flight and duty time discussions, TC hired a well-known fatigue researcher to help the orient the working group members to the state of scientific fatigue research and to help the group separate science from science fiction. His assistance, it is HAC’s view, has been valuable.

Consider also that the working group has considered changes to the flight and duty time regulations in the context of the industry as a whole – where the rules that apply in the airline world, or at least the principles under discussion there, are also being urged on the rest of the industry as principles of common application.

This round of discussions has been fundamentally different from the previous two that I have been involved in over the years. For reasons that are still unclear to me, the large scheduled international airlines, represented for the most part by the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), and their unions have been regularly engaging in group hugs – this is a fundamental departure from the adversarial nature of their discussions in previous working groups on this subject. Oddly, the issues under discussion by the airlines – even those that have little support in the science – are being forced on other industry segments (CAR 702 and 703 fixed-wing and all helicopter operators).

Although HAC has been accompanied by operator-members at each of the working group meetings, we would welcome your views on the foregoing in preparation for a formal submission that we will make before the end of January 2012. Send your comments to fred.jones@h-a-c.ca.

The working group has concluded its deliberations and the working group leaders will be drafting their recommendations in the coming three or four months. It will be over to the CARAC process after that with a view to in-force regulations in the coming three or four years. (For a detailed breakdown of HAC’s deliberations regarding flight and duty times, see www.helicoptersmagazine.com.)


Fred Jones is the president/CEO of the Helicopters Association of Canada and a regular contributor to Helicopters magazine


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