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Even though federal accident investigators have increasingly identified fatigue as a factor in airplane crashes, all attempts to redefine the rules for pilots has been repeatedly blocked until recently. The last six fatal airline accidents in the U.S. have involved regional airlines, with pilot performance cited as the factor in four of them. The latest was the deadly crash of a regional airliner in western New York early last year.

Reducing fatigue is listed as one of the “most wanted” safety enhancements and has become a top priority following the N.Y. fatality, thanks to support from family members of victims on board. An investigation found that both pilots on the flight were, most likely, suffering from fatigue, although fatigue was not a direct cause of the accident. The crash raises questions about training, long hours, and working conditions for regional airline pilots. Obviously, a well-rested pilot is a safer pilot.

The Department of Transportation has unveiled a long-awaited proposal to combat fatigue among pilots by requiring longer rest periods, shorter times on duty and limits on the number of hours they can fly. The change is the first in over 50 years.

The existing rules have several loopholes. Pilots may work overnight shifts up to 16 hours. They are guaranteed eight hours off each day, but those eight hours can include eating, showering and getting to a hotel, leaving far less time for sleep. Carriers can extend the workday longer if a pilot is flying an empty plane. The new proposal is an attempt to prevent tired pilots from making errors that can cause crashes. It could protect the 700 million airline passengers who fly every year," said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood at a news conference in Washington. He called the proposal “a significant improvement in air travel safety."

If adopted, the proposal would:

· Require airline pilots to get a minimum of nine hours of rest between shifts. The rest period would begin when a pilot arrives at their home, hotel or apartment.

· Require pilots to get eight hours of actual sleep during the rest period.

· Allow pilots who feel they are too tired to fly to be able to decline taking a flight without fear of being reprimanded or disciplined by employers.

· Limit the time a pilot spends on duty to 13 hours a day, including flying, flight checks, and waiting between flights. Those that flew overnight or made numerous landings and takeoffs will be restricted to as little as 9 hours

The proposal does not specifically address how pilots may commute to work. Many pilots must fly long distances to report to work, and accidents such as the Buffalo crash have revealed that some of them have no place to sleep in the city where they work.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to issue a final decision regarding the new proposal on August 1, 2011.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in during personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

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