Cargo Plane Crash Revives Pilot Fatigue Questions

New rules regulating the number of hours passenger-airline pilots can fly go into effect in 2014 and are expected to curb pilot fatigue. Cargo airlines were exempted, but two associations have been urging Congress to require similar standards for both types of aircraft.

Pilot fatigue is grabbing headlines again, just a month after the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco. This time, however, cargo pilots are the focus of the story.

The crash of a United Parcel Service (UPS) cargo plane in Alabama last week, which killed both pilots, was the third fatal cargo jet crash this year in the U.S. A fourth incident involving a U.S.-based cargo airline occurred in Afghanistan in April and resulted in the death of seven crew members.

With accidents mounting, questions are being raised about whether the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules governing pilot hours of service are sufficient in the cargo sector.

“I hope the FAA will revisit their decision on the ‘cargo cutout,’” Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told Aljazeera America.

Hall was referring to the FAA’s decision to exempt cargo airlines from new regulations set to take effect in 2014 that will limit the number of hours passenger-airline pilots can fly if they are coming off of a late-night flight or face multiple takeoffs and landings. The new rules will implement the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010, which also included new pilot training requirements that went into effect last month. They have also generated protest among several pilots’ associations.

The Independent Pilots Association (IPA), a union representing UPS pilots, and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), a separate union that represents FedEx Corp. pilots, among many others, have urged Congress to enact legislation that requires similar standards for cargo pilots.

In the rule, the FAA said cargo airlines were excluded because the projected benefits were based largely on preventing potential loss of life, and cargo carriers had less to gain. However, a study published by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority showed that the rate of fatal cargo plane accidents around the world was eight times higher than that for passenger airlines from 2002 to 2011. IPA went so far as to sue the FAA last year over the exemption for cargo airlines.

The FAA, which estimated that imposing similar restrictions on cargo airlines would cost the industry $550 million over the first 12 years, reconsidered the fatigue rules for cargo pilots but eventually rejected the union’s requests.

IPA and ALPA released separate statements addressing the crash of UPS Flight 1354, but neither commented on the fatigue regulations.

Last week's deadly UPS crash in Alabama took the lives of both the pilot and copilot. (YouTube screenshot)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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