Nightly News | December 21, 2011
>>> good evening. it was a terrible night three years ago. the first word of a plane crash just outside buffalo in some bad weather . then we learned 50 people had died. but much later during the investigation we learned the crash really didn't have to happen. we learned a lot about the crew flying that aircraft. they flew for cogan, a regional carrier carrying people under the continental logo. it was a tragic combination of errors, lack of experience and suspected exhaustion. it was bad enough that now the f.a.a. has stepped in to change some old rules governing pilots and affecting the safety of every one of us. and, by the way, here's a look at the stakes. a live graphic showing all the commercial flights currently flying over the u.s. tonight. all those passengers on all those planes and all the folks waiting for them at home make this an important story. it's where we begin tonight. tom costello covers aviation for us. he's live at national airport in washington . tom, good evening.
>> reporter: hi, brian. the science has come a long way here. understanding sleep cycles and what flying through multiple time zones can do to you. applying that science the f.a.a. has come up with the first rule change in 50 years. it was nearly three years ago that 50 people died when a regional airline crashed on approach to buffalo. pilot error was cited as the cause but the crash highlighted long distance commuting, gruelling work schedules and pilot fatigue -- factors thought to have contributed to crashes going back decades. now the rules are changing.
>> this is a big deal today. it's a big deal because for 25 years, people have been talking about this and haven't done a dang thing about it.
>> reporter: the new f.a.a. rules set a maximum duty day for pilots of 9 to 14 hours depending on where and when they are flying. maximum flying time would be 9 to 10 hours. pilots will get a minimum of ten hours rest time between flights, two hours more than the current rules with an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep and at least 30 consecutive hours of time off per week. and something else. regardless of how far they have commuted on their own, pilots will be required to state that they are fit to fly, a statement of personal responsibility that veteran pilot john cox welcomes.
>> jet airplanes move very quickly. so a successful pilot must always be ahead of the airplane. and when you're fatigued, that's harder to do.
>> reporter: the airline industry initially opposed an early draft of the rules but today said it supports changes that are science-based and will improve safety. it's the families of the buffalo crash victims getting the credit. beverly eckert, a 9/11 widow died in the crash. today her sister was in washington .
>> i think that our efforts really went a long way to pushing this through. not just for ourselves, but for everyone who flies and in the memory of all those people who died .
>> reporter: the pilots union is praising this new rule. they and the airlines now have two years to work out all their scheduling difficulties, if you will before they have to apply the rule and make to it official. the cargo carriers said this would be way too expensive for them and so the f.a.a. essentially exempted cargo carriers but all the c.e.o.s of cargo airlines are encouraged to come aboard. brian?
>> tom costello starting us off in washington . tom, thanks.