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Snowstorm, pilot's rule change pack 1-2 punch

United Airlines Assistant Chief Pilot Glen McGeary on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Los Angeles International Airport.

The weather outside is frightful and airports in stormy states are trying to cope. But tomorrow the aviation industry will have to deal with even more.

That’s because new federal regulations kick in over the weekend -- rules that require more rest for pilots and restricting the hours they can fly.

"Under the new rules you actually have hard stops in which you cannot exceed more than a certain amount of hours on any given duty that you’re at the controls," says Captain Sean Cassidy, a vice president for the Air Line Pilots Association.

Cassidy says because there are so many different kinds of flights the new regulations also take into account the amount of crew on a plane, the time of day pilots start work, and the number of trips they take.

“We fly flights that are as little as 15 minutes and flights that are as long as fifteen hours,he says.

Under the current rules if a pilot starts a trip, but goes over his or her allotted time, it’s up to the pilot whether he or she wants to finish the trip or not.

"Today they're able to go ahead and finish the trip," says Helane Becker, managing director with financial services firm Cowen and Company, "going forward, they won’t be able to."

Longer international flights already have extra crew. Becker says complicated schedules mean in nasty weather, like we’re seeing today, airlines will be much more likely to cancel flights.

"Not only are we going to see actually an increase in flight cancellations because of this. But we’re also going to see an increase in pilot hiring," she says.

“Becker notes that the new rules mean pilots are going from 8 hours of rest to 9. So, if airlines want to achieve the same schedule they’ll need more pilots. She says more cancellations plus more pilots equals higher prices for consumers.

But Don Dillman, managing director of flight operations at Airlines for America, a trade organization representing airlines, isn’t so sure.

"You know I don’t know about that," he says. "What you’re going to find is that the airlines are going to schedule their pilots a little bit differently."

Dillman agrees bad weather and the new rules will pose a challenge. But he says it means airlines will need become more efficient in other areas, like traffic control and scheduling.

Besides, says Cassidy, when it comes to waiting on the tarmac, we’re already used to delays.

After all he says, "that’s something that happened prior to Jan 4 of this year."

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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