The FAA has begun the process of amending its regulations to require that flight attendants at U.S. airlines receive a rest period of at least 10 consecutive hours between periods of duty lasting 14 hours or less. Under the FAA’s current regulations (dating from 1994), a flight attendant who is scheduled for a duty period of 14 hours or less must be given a scheduled rest period of at least nine consecutive hours. By way of background, Congress, in late 2018, passed and President Trump signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which included a provision (section 335(a)) requiring this change in the FAA’s regulations by November 4, 2018. Section 335(a) prohibits any reduction in the rest period below 10 hours.

After criticism that the FAA was not moving quickly enough in response to this direction from Congress, the FAA has now issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM). The ANPRM signals the commencement of a rulemaking process while underscoring that it may be some time before the FAA actually adopts a rule change. Because the FAA has decided that the planned rule change is “economically significant,” it takes the position that it is legally required to publish an ANPRM in which it solicits public comment (particularly in the form of data and studies) quantifying the costs and benefits (safety-related or otherwise) of the rule change.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which lobbied for congressional passage of section 335(a), has criticized the FAA for not implementing the rule change more quickly. The AFA disputes that, as a procedural matter, the FAA needed to publish an ANPRM as a prelude to implementing the rule change. Airlines, by contrast, have expressed concern about the costs associated with the rule change and how it may be implemented. They point out that they may need to hire additional flight attendants and schedule additional flight attendant hours in order to accommodate longer rest periods while maintaining existing flight schedules.

Comments on the ANPRM are due by November 12, 2019. The FAA, after having reviewed those comments, will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), including the proposed text of the rule change, but the FAA has not published a schedule for issuance of a NPRM or a final rule actually implementing the rule change. Given the pace of the administrative rulemaking process, this means that the rule change appears unlikely to go into effect before 2020.