Canada's largest pilots group says the federal government is lagging behind in updating regulations aimed at reducing pilot fatigue.

The Air Canada Pilots Association issued a statement earlier this week, criticizing the government for the delay in capping the number of hours pilots can be on the job.

The association was reacting to a notice of intent recently issued by Transport Canada. In the notice, the federal agency announced it intends to make amendments to the Canadian Aviation Regulations. The amendments include:

  • reducing pilots' annual flight time limit to 1,000 hours in 365 days, down from 1,200 hours in 365 days;
  • Capping the daily flight duty time of a shift from between nine to 13 hours, down from 14;
  • Giving pilots 10 consecutive sleep hours between flights;
  • Amending the requirements needed to receive time free from duty;
  • Implementing a system to recognize and manage fatigue risk.

However, the new regulations will only be in effect for large carriers, with smaller carriers being exempt. Under Canadian Aviation Regulations, a large carrier (referred to as 705 Airlines Operations) are carriers that are authorized to operate planes that have a takeoff weight of more than 19,000 pounds, or which can transport 20 or more passengers.

In the notice, Transport Canada said it plans to introduce a second phase of amendments for all air operators, but gave no specific timeline. And, with a federal election campaign underway, it's not clear what will happen to the plan.

Geoff Wall, chair of the Master Executive Council of the ACPA, said it's been frustrating for Canadian pilots, as the updates to the aviation regulations have been in the works since 2010. He also said that the federal agency only selected five out of 50 recommendations to act on.

"It's been a long struggle for us," he told CTV's Canada AM on Friday. "Five years ago we were brought in as the technical experts to improve and modernize, and bring the Canadian air regulations up to a global standard.

"That's all we're really looking for, to be on par with everybody else in the rest of the world."

One of the chief concerns is the issue of "time of day sensitivity," Wall said.

Under current regulations, pilots in Canada can be scheduled to work for 14 hours. The APCA would like to see those hours dropped to between nine to 13 hours, depending on when the work shift starts. These are the rules that carriers in the U.S. and EU follow, Wall said.

But the Air Transport Association of Canada, a group representing 85 Canadian operators, says reducing the length of a pilots' shift means the smaller carriers will have to hire more staff. It also says the changes are not necessary given Canada's excellent aviation safety record.

"We have the highest safety record in the world. We are the only country with a regulated safety management system, so I don't see why this is such a pressing issue," ATAC President John McKenna told CTV News.

Wall recognized that Canadian airlines are already safe, noting that Air Canada already operates under rules similar to the proposed recommendations. The pilots association is simply looking to match international standards, which are safer, he said.

"If an American passenger can get on an American airline, and be governed under flight duty times that are considered safe to a global standard, why can't we expect the same for a Canadian passenger getting on any Canadian airline in Canada," he said.

"Canadian airlines are safe, but what we are looking for is something that's safer."

With files from CTV National News reporter Vanessa Lee