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How do you define a crew duty day? When does it start and when does it end? Also what are the legal limits (in other words how long can a crew duty day last in terms of hours)?.

Edit: Here is a link I found, which basically defines what a Duty period is for the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority: https://www.casa.gov.au/standard-page/duty-time-flight-time-and-flight-duty-period.

My question: does each country define its own rules for what constitutes a duty day or do you have standardized set of rules. What happens when you fly say from the US to Australia? Which set of rules prevail?

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    $\begingroup$ For which country? $\endgroup$ – mins Feb 19 '17 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ Let's start with the US. I guess Europe has its own set of rules. $\endgroup$ – BigONotation Feb 19 '17 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ You used an airline tag. Should we assume you are asking about scheduled 121 air carrier operations? $\endgroup$ – J Walters Feb 19 '17 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ From @justin deleted post: See also: Flightcrew Member Duty and Rest Requirements $\endgroup$ – mins Feb 20 '17 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ To my knowledge the term "duty day" is not used in 14 CFR 121 or 135, much less defined therein. So my answer to that part of your otherwise broad set of questions is no, the term does not have a legal definition. The air carrier that I work for does not use the term either. The pertinent terms are flight time, duty time, and hours of rest, or rest period. Other carriers may use the term, however. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Feb 21 '17 at 17:58
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How do you define a crew duty day? When does it start and when does it end?

In the most simplistic terms, a crew's duty day can be defined in two parts: the "flight duty period" (FDP) and the "flight time".

The FDP begins when the crew "clocks in" for their shift. There might be administrative duties to accomplish prior to flying, so "flight time" has not yet started. The FDP ends when the last flight that they operate blocks in. The Flight Time begins and ends with each Block Out to Block In, and there might be several individual flights within a single FDP. Once the FDP is over, they might still be required to attend to admin duties, but their FDP "clock" has stopped ticking. Their "rest" clock has not yet started, just because their FDP has ended. (Some of these terms and definitions will be expanded upon later.)

Also what are the legal limits (in other words how long can a crew duty day last in terms of hours)?

This is an extremely complicated question, and the rest of this answer will be devoted to this, in conjunction with your other sub-questions.

[Are there] standardized set of rules?

Not necessarily rules, per se... but the ICAO does have a lot of documentation about duty/rest, fatigue management, and the effects on safety. Although the ICAO cannot publish laws, most of it's member nations write their aviation laws in close conjunction with ICAO's recommendations. These nations have ratified treaties stating that they will "abide by" most of the ICAO's recommendations.


does each country define its own rules?

Yes, each regulatory body has its own laws for determining duty/rest requirements. Most are very similar, and based on the ICAO's body of documentation and research.

Narrowing this down even further, each carrier develops it's own policies and procedures that are based on (and approved by) it's parent nation's regulatory body.


What happens when you fly say from the US to Australia? Which set of rules prevail?

You will follow the policies of your air carrier, which are enforced by your carrier's country of registration.


Let's start with the US.

Ok, within the US, most of the rules regarding duty/rest for Part 121 Air Carriers are enumerated in Part 117: Flight and Duty Time limitations and Rest Requirements: Flightcrew Members.

There are some "All Cargo" duty/rest requirements under Part 121 Subpart Q (Domestic), Subpart R (Flag), and Subpart S (Supplemental); however, carriers can chose to use these 121 Subparts OR Part 117, but not both. Once they make that choice (listed in their GOM/OpSpecs and approved by the FAA), they are stuck with it.


What is the exact definition of a “crew duty day”?

As noted in the comments of the question, this is not a legal term within the US FARs. Under Part 117, we find the definition for these related terms:

  • Calendar day means a 24-hour period from 0000 through 2359 using Coordinated Universal Time or local time.
  • Duty means any task that a flightcrew member performs as required by the certificate holder, including but not limited to flight duty period, flight duty, pre- and post-flight duties, administrative work, training, deadhead transportation, aircraft positioning on the ground, aircraft loading, and aircraft servicing.
  • Flight duty period (FDP) means a period that begins when a flightcrew member is required to report for duty with the intention of conducting a flight, a series of flights, or positioning or ferrying flights, and ends when the aircraft is parked after the last flight and there is no intention for further aircraft movement by the same flightcrew member. A flight duty period includes the duties performed by the flightcrew member on behalf of the certificate holder that occur before a flight segment or between flight segments without a required intervening rest period. Examples of tasks that are part of the flight duty period include deadhead transportation, training conducted in an aircraft or flight simulator, and airport/standby reserve, if the above tasks occur before a flight segment or between flight segments without an intervening required rest period.
  • Rest period means a continuous period determined prospectively during which the flightcrew member is free from all restraint by the certificate holder, including freedom from present responsibility for work should the occasion arise.

From there, it can get extremely complicated and an airline's crew scheduler probably could not do their job without the aid of a computer. Flight crewmembers are restricted to a certain number of hours in a duty period, and there are limits to cumulative hours as well:

  • total Flight Time cannot exceed:
  • -- 100 hours in any 672 consecutive hours or
  • -- 1,000 hours in any 365 consecutive calendar day period.

And then...

  • total Flight Duty Period cannot exceed:
  • 60 flight duty period hours in any 168 consecutive hours or
  • 190 flight duty period hours in any 672 consecutive hours.

They are required to have a certain number of hours of "rest" in between these duty periods, and those rest hours are required to be in a certain type of facility (if they are not at home).

The amount of time in the cockpit for a flight is also determined by what time of day you start, whether or not there is an on-board relief crew, whether or not you have crossed more than 60 degrees of longitude (and if you HAVE, how long have you been within the new "theater"), and several other factors.


So, finally, back to your question:

What is a crew's "duty day", and what are the legal limits? The answer is so complicated, that the Air Line Pilot's Association has published a 60-page document (updated several times) with 128 scenario-based Q&As just to help "clear it up".

ALPA's FTDT Limitations and Requirements (May 2015)

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  • $\begingroup$ Jimmy, many thanks for your detailed information! Your explanations actually makes things a lot clearer to me :) I am currently working on a software project and nobody could give me a clear definition of "Crew Duty Day" although they use the word the whole time :) $\endgroup$ – BigONotation Mar 10 '17 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ "your explanation makes things a lot clearer". Ha! :-) I'm glad you liked the answer, @BigLudinski , but I'm not sure I made anything more clear. This is way too complicated a topic to be made very clear. However, I suggest taking the time to look through that ALPA document - most of those questions are "what if this? what if that?" scenarios. $\endgroup$ – Jimmy Mar 10 '17 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ I guess in the most simplistic term, a crew's duty day can be defined in two parts: the FDP and the Flight Time. The FDP begins when the crew "clocks in" for their shift, and stops when they "clock out". The Flight Time begins and ends with Block Out to Block In. There might be several individual flights within a single FDP. But the length of both the FDP and the FT(s) are constrained by all of the restrictions within Part 117. (Edit: I think I'll add this to the top of the answer) $\endgroup$ – Jimmy Mar 10 '17 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ FDP doesn't end when the crew "clocks out" -- it ends when the last flight that they operate blocks in. They can still be on duty as far as the airline is concerned (post-flight tasks, a deadhead positioning leg, clearing customs, etc) for some time after this. Those required tasks are part of the "duty day" and that time is most certainly not considered to be rest. BUT, it isn't part of the FDP. "Crew duty day" is essentially the time that a pilot is on duty (as defined in your answer), and often contracts limit how long this can be (i.e. deadheading for 24 hours wouldn't be allowed). $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Mar 11 '17 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for catching that @RalphJ, that is explicitly stated in the Part 117 definition of FDP. $\endgroup$ – Jimmy Mar 11 '17 at 4:36

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