Published November 17, 2014
The pilot who landed a jetliner safely on the Hudson River last year said Friday that proposed rules aimed at reducing pilot fatigue could end up leaving them more tired than before and endanger passengers' safety.
Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger spoke to reporters during a book signing at Purdue University in West Lafayette, where he was being feted as a distinguished alumnus.
The Federal Aviation Administration says the new rules set new limits on the amount of time pilots can fly in a day and the level of rest required between flights. Congress mandated the rules after a regional airline crash near Buffalo, N.Y., killed 50 people.
But Sullenberger says some of the changes — particularly an increase from eight to 10 in the maximum hours pilots are allowed to fly on domestic flights in a day — would actually result in less rest for pilots.
"The way to decrease fatigue is not by flying more hours in a day," Sullenberger said.
Another provision would allow teams of three pilots to fly up to 15 hours a day, with two working at the controls while one rested, Sullenberger said. But he said there is no place in the aircraft cabin for a pilot to sleep.
An FAA spokesman said it was up to pilots to find ways to fight fatigue or to remove themselves from duty when they were too tired to fly.
"Clearly, it has been demonstrated that fatigue can have an effect on a pilot's performance," FAA spokesman Les Dorr said. "However, there are things pilots can do to combat that fatigue and make sure they're fit to be in the cockpit."
Sullenberger said under current decades-old rules, pilots can end up with as little as five and a half hours of sleep between flights and it would be hard to get eight hours of sleep between flights even with the new rules.
He said pilot fatigue was an issue of public safety, and he urged the public to contact Congress and the FAA if they were concerned. Dorr said public comments could be left through Monday at a government website called regulations.gov.
The law was prompted by a regional airline crash near Buffalo, N.Y., in February 2009 that killed 50 people. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded the first officer and the flight's captain were probably suffering fatigue when the plane crashed. Neither had slept in a bed the night before — the first officer napped in a cockpit jump seat, and the captain in a crew lounge where sleeping was discouraged. Pilots, particularly at regional airlines, often can't afford to live in the communities where they're based. Some share cheap apartments near their base so they can grab sleep before flights. Others simply nap wherever they can.
Sullenberger's impromptu news conference punctuated a day otherwise taken up with honors.
Earlier in the day, Sullenberger received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Purdue's college of liberal arts for his quick thinking while piloting US Airways Flight 1549 in January 2009 as it took off from New York's LaGuardia Airport.
The plane carrying 155 people was crippled after it struck a flock of geese, but Sullenberger glided it to a landing on the Hudson River and all aboard were rescued.
Sullenberger told the ballroom crowd that he felt he had been preparing for that moment for his entire life, including during his time at Purdue.
Sullenberger earned a master's degree in industrial psychology from Purdue in 1973.
Friday night, he was set to receive Purdue's Neil Armstrong Medal of Excellence from its namesake, the first man to walk on the moon.
Several students in Purdue's flight school spoke to Sullenberger, who they said was a role model. He autographed their copies of his book, "Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters."
"He thinks he's just another guy," said Sam Hadley, 20, a junior from Greenville.