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The FAA requires a pilot to put on the oxygen mask if the other pilot leaves cockpit when cruising above FL250. It also requires that one pilot always wears an oxygen mask when flying above FL410. Do airline pilots really do that and if so, do they do it only over American soil and then put off the mask, e.g. when flying over the ocean? How would it be controlled, other than by sounds heard by ATC? And do bizjet pilots have these requirements as well or do these count for the large airliners only?

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    $\begingroup$ 91.211 talks about a "quick donning" mask being available at FL350, required to be worn at FL410 or if solo on the controls at FL350. Where is FL250's mask requirement? $\endgroup$
    – tedder42
    Feb 1, 2022 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, the requirement is that you can't fly above FL250 without having 10 minutes of oxygen available for everyone on board. Pilots don't need to mask up until FL350, if alone, and only beyond FL410 with more than one pilot present. $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Feb 2, 2022 at 18:07

4 Answers 4

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Pilot flight crewmembers would be required to follow FAA regulations when operating an aircraft in sovereign airspace over the USA including US territorial waters. After that, you’re over international waters and required to comply with the regulations set by the international civil aeronautics organization (ICAO). These do not conflict with US law, though they do not require you or another pilot flight crewmember to use supplemental O₂ at or above FL350.

That being said, while you may not be legally required to use supplement a oxygen above FL350, it is a very wise precaution to do so. At FL400, Time of Useful Consciousness (TUC) is only 5-10 seconds. In the event of a rapid decompression or similar emergency, the trauma or other effects of a serious catastrophe could quickly eat up all of your time of useful consciousness before you could get a mask on your face and start breathing oxygen again, posing a very serious risk to life and limb. I would not be surprised if all the major international carrier SOPs require their pilot flight crewmembers to be using supplemental oxygen at all times while at their crew stations above FL400.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Feb 4, 2022 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ As far as I know, there's no such thing as "regulations set by ICAO." ICAO has its "Standards and Recommended Procedures," but these have no force of law anywhere unless actually enacted in regulations from the relevant local civil aviation authorities. Also, while FAA jurisdiction of non-U.S.-flagged aircraft does end at the end of U.S. airspace, its jurisdiction over U.S.-flagged aircraft is worldwide. Generally, aircraft must follow (at least most of) their flag country's regulations regardless of where they are in the world at any given time. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Feb 4, 2022 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ do you have a reference that specifies that over international waters rules like 14CFR 121.333 (relating to oxygen requirements for flight crew) do not apply and instead ICAO rules apply to U.S. Flag Carriers? $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Feb 5, 2022 at 2:01
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I can attest to seeing Fedex pilots do this back in the 1990's. The first time I saw them do it I was concerned and asked the FE if something was wrong and he told me about the regulation and that it was normal procedure.

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I am a retired Canadian B767/B777 airline pilot and have flown over USA airspace many times. I have never put on an O2 mask while flying alone in the flight deck over FL250. None of my fellow crew members did either. Occasionally we might talk about the requirement, but we always justified our non-compliance because we had quick donning masks that were easy to use.

I have only flown at FL410 a few times and never flown higher than FL410.

I would be curious to hear from American pilots to see how faithfully these rules were followed.

See also: Why are rules regarding the use of oxygen masks by commercial pilots often ignored?

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    – Federico
    Feb 4, 2022 at 8:11
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The short answer to your question: Yes, they do, or at least all the ones I know do..

A person worst enemy is the part-time idiot in his or her own head. There is no common profession in which this can prove more disastrous than in aviation. For this reason there is no common profession in which idiot proof systems of operation are applied more than in aviation. As a result in general, a professional pilots tendency to obey rules simply because they exist, is not compromised by their personal thoughts or opinions about the usefulness of these rules. A helpful tool in obtaining this attitude is the frequent exposure to very realistic emergency simulations, while under observation. In real emergencies, this results in an attitude and conduct similar to that in the simulations. Even if in certain extreme situations, following regulatory procedures may give a pilot little more than having something to do, they will still keep him from emotionally assessing his situation. It's this thing pilots have with rules.

That plus the fact that hypoxia is nothing to mess with. No mask will save you if you fail to notice it's time to put it on.

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