What does Fit To Fly really mean?
As other Countries, such as Canada, settle into their new duty/rest regulations, we thought we would share some of our experiences with the 117 cutover. There were many changes with the new regulations, one of the biggest is the concept of joint responsibility.
That simply means, both the airline and crew members must verify legal limits and fitness for duty. The first part of the joint responsibility is ensuring that crews have adequate rest opportunity, within their ten-hour rest period. For example, a long transport to and from the hotel must be considered in order to ensure the crews will get at least eight-hours of uninterrupted sleep. On the flip side, it is the crew’s responsibility to utilize the rest period properly to ensure they get sufficient rest prior to starting the next duty period.
Another important aspect of the joint responsibility is the Fit for Duty or Fit to Fly statement. The previous “legal-to-start, legal-to-finish” perspective is no longer applicable. This has been replaced with the philosophy that just because a crew was legal to fly when they showed up to work, does not necessarily mean they are legal to finish their whole schedule. An article from Aero Crew News summed it up very well.
So, in the beginning, this joint responsibility put an additional burden on the airlines to keep the crews informed of their limits and a method of accepting Fit to Fly. To accommodate this added burden, we created multiple products giving the airlines options on how to abide by these expectations. For some of our customers, we created an automated e-mail notification system that went out to the crews every morning, with a detail of their legal limits for that day. For other customers, we provide a more sophisticated notification process through our CrewPortal, with an App that provides the crews with their legal limits on a real-time basis.
Often, I am asked about the Fit to Fly rule and how I think the airlines have used it. What we have observed is that most of our customers wrapped the Fit to Fly acknowledgement directly into the Flight Release, letting the company know they are accepting the flight plan and at the same time informing the company they are fit to fly. However, this process was not approved overseas. So, for our international customers, we developed an app requiring the crew to separately acknowledge their limits as well as accepting they are fit to fly for that particular flight, on a flight-by-flight basis. I have observed that some carriers have been more involved in providing multiple automated opportunities for the crews to keep up with their limits than others. The carriers that have implemented more automation had a smoother transition and over time has benefited from eliminating unnecessary phone calls, as the crews were independently well informed of their limits. In my observation, relationships between crews and management improve when the carriers provide more automation to the crews.
I think overall the fit-to-fly rule has kept both the company and crews in check and has forced both parties to be diligent in constantly monitoring legal limits and fatigue issues. Prior to the implementation of the FAR 117, I personally observed horror stories regarding legal-to-start, legal-to-finish. In years past, I witnessed crews being terminated for refusing to fly while fatigued. The parameters as set in the 117, in my opinion, has made for a safer flying environment and a method for protecting the crewmember from disciplinary action.
As described in the Aero Crew article,
“117…has built a program (FRMP) to help protect the pilot from disciplinary and duty pay reduction if they are forced to call in fatigued due to circumstances that fall within the protections of the program.”Scott Stahl , FAR117 – A Shared Resibility, Aero Crew News, March 1, 2019
However, the FAA did not address the tracking of the crew member that commutes to his base and left the responsibility solely on the pilot to be diligent in his rest prior to operating their FDP and the expectation that the crew can and should refuse to fly if they are fatigued. As stated in the Aero Crew article, monitoring of time off duty is an issue that could not be directly addressed in the 117 FARs. However, I think this matter needs more attention and consideration, as it is still part of the overall fatigue conservation. I have observed situations where the carrier was left to scramble as crew fatigue was established late in the flight process. In addition, I have heard cases where the crew has flown an FDP that may have been under fatigue due to commuting issues but still failed to report. The shared responsibility and increased visibility of legal limits has led to better and safer flying. So, I think the shared responsibility should be continued in all areas. But overall, the new duty/rest regulations have been successful at addressing most areas related to fatigue.