WASHINGTON - Amid opposition from charter and cargo airlines, as well as alarms raised by Pentagon officials, the Obama administration has delayed new safety rules aimed at preventing airline pilots from becoming so exhausted that they make dangerous mistakes.
The Federal Aviation Administration was supposed to have final rules in place by Aug. 1 under legislation passed by Congress last year in response to a 2009 regional airline crash in New York that killed 50 people.
The FAA proposed new rules last year designed to address concerns that pilot fatigue contributes to accidents. They would reshape regulations governing how many hours a pilot can be on duty or at the controls of a plane.
Administration officials declined to comment on the reasons for the delay. A new schedule for issuing final rules indicates the target date is now in late November.
Charter airlines are demanding to be exempted from the new rules. Charter, also called nonscheduled, airlines not only fly tourists and sports teams, they provide the planes and pilots for thousands of military flights every year. Civilian airlines transport more than 90 percent of US troops and 40 percent of military cargo around the globe.
The nation’s top aviation accident investigator blamed the delay in issuing final rules on the influence of airlines that put profit ahead of safety.
“There are special interests who are holding this rule up because it’s not in their financial self-interest,’’ National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman said.
The proposed rules would allow some pilots to fly more hours - 10 instead of the current maximum of eight - if they begin their day in the morning so that most of their flying takes place during the daytime. But pilots who fly overnight - the busiest time of day for cargo carriers and military charters - would be allowed fewer than eight hours because people naturally crave sleep during those hours.
Airline industry officials are nearly unanimous in their opposition. The Air Transport Association, which represents large carriers, estimates the proposal will cost airlines nearly $20 billion over 10 years. The FAA pegs the cost at $1.2 billion.