Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger earned the right to pontificate on pretty much anything he wants after he successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 in Hudson River. OK, we kid, but when Sullenberger talks about air safety, we listen.
After the Federal Aviation Administration has come under scrutiny first for sleeping air traffic controllers and more recently for the near miss of the First Lady's plane, Sullenberger gave an interview to the Daily Beast, today, in which he warns that Congress should be careful when cutting the FAA's budget. He said:
It's very difficult to cut the budget that much and not have an effect on safety. If we chose to cut it, then we need to do it with our eyes wide open, and to be upfront and honest with the American people, and tell them that we are choosing to cut the budget knowing full well that one of the possible implications is that we will not have properly staffed regulatory agencies, that we will not have done the very best we can to take into account what we've learned from the science of safety, that we're choosing not to update our rules and to hold ourselves to the highest professional standards we know how to do, and that we realize that by not doing these things, we're increasing the risk that at some future unknown date, someone will come to harm that otherwise would not have.
Perhaps of most interest in the interview is that Sullenberger says the most pressing issue facing aviation today is pilot fatigue. The rules that regulate how much a pilot can work, he said, haven't been updated in 20 years. Sullenberger, who retired last year, gave this example of an exhausting schedule:
There's something called the minimum overnight, one night during a sequence of days of flying that only allows for nine hours and 15 minutes from the flight's arrival at the gate the night before to the flight's departure from the gate the next morning. And when you do the math, when you subtract the time it takes to deplane, to gather your bags, do your post-flight duties, walk from the gate through the terminal to the curb, wait 15 or 20 minutes for the hotel van to pick you up and travel 30 or 40 minutes to the hotel—which may not be the nearest one because, again, they're chosen often because of cost—check in, get something to eat, try to relax enough to be able to get to sleep, and then get up in the morning early enough to shower, dress, and eat, go through security, and get to the gate an hour before departure: when you do the math, you're talking about getting five hours of sleep. And that happens every night, at every airline, and has for decades.