Washington — The U.S. Court of Appeals has blocked the government from strictly enforcing rules designed to give pilots at least eight hours of rest a day.
The appeals court for the District of Columbia circuit ordered the Federal Aviation Administration not to enforce the rules until it hears the case.
The Air Transport Assn. said the case would be heard next January. The ATA, the trade group for the major airlines, and the Regional Airline Association, which represents commuter airlines, went to court to block the FAA's action, claiming that the agency issued a new regulation without first asking the public to comment.
Pilots union officials criticized the court decision. FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette maintained that the agency did not issue any new rules but simply restated its long-standing interpretation of current regulations.
Under federal rules, pilots cannot be scheduled to work more than 16 hours a day, including eight hours in the air flying the plane. Delays both in the air and on the ground have forced some pilots to work longer days, giving them only a few hours of sleep a night.
The FAA in May said that pilots were limited to 16 hours on duty, even with delays, and gave the industry until mid-November to adjust its schedules, after which time the agency would step up enforcement, including looking at each airline's scheduling practices. The agency said it simply was reminding airlines of existing rules.
But the airlines went to court. The FAA in July rejected an industry request to delay enforcing the rules until a hearing.
"The process that was under way would significantly change the existing regulation without soliciting public comment, thereby excluding valuable information that must be considered," ATA President Carol Hallett said Monday.
Allied Pilots Assn. President John Darrah said Monday he was disappointed with the court's ruling.
"FAA enforcement of the clarified regulation will reduce fatigue risk and raise the bar on safety," said Darrah, whose group represents American Airlines pilots. "It's unfortunate that the FAA cannot perform its most important safety function as a result of legal maneuvering by the airlines."