The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has begun the process of amending its regulations to require that flight attendants at US airlines receive a rest period of at least 10 consecutive hours between periods of duty lasting 14 hours or fewer. Under the FAA's current regulations (from 1994), a flight attendant who is scheduled for a duty period of 14 hours or fewer must be given a scheduled rest period of at least nine consecutive hours.
For background, in late 2018 Congress passed and President Trump signed the FAA Reauthorisation Act 2018, which included a provision (Section 335(a)) requiring this change in the FAA's regulations by 4 November 2018. Section 335(a) prohibits any reduction in rest periods below 10 hours (for further details please see "Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorisation Act: new airline fees introduced" and "Consumer protection following introduction of Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorisation Act").
After criticism that the FAA was not moving quickly enough in response to Congress' direction, the FAA has now issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking. The notice 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 has taken the position that it is legally required to publish an advanced notice 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 criticised the FAA for not implementing the rule change more quickly. The AFA disputes that, as a procedural matter, the FAA needed to publish an advanced notice 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 advance notice are due by 12 November 2019. After reviewing those comments, the FAA will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking, including the proposed text of the rule change; however, the FAA has not yet published a schedule for issuing the notice of proposed rulemaking or a final rule implementing the rule change. Given the pace of the administrative rulemaking process, this means that the rule change is unlikely to go into effect before 2020.
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