When the new pilot rest requirements were put into place in January 2014, the FAA inadvertently sent a message that passenger-carrying planes are worth saving and cargo carriers aren’t. The new regulations set rules to address pilot fatigue for passenger-carrying planes, which comes as a result of a 2009 Colgan Air crash that brought public attention to the fatigue problem.
But there’s just one thing: the new rules don’t apply to cargo operators, who most would agree face the same type of fatigue problem that passenger aircraft pilots face.
At the time, the FAA cited cost as the primary factor for the exemption of cargo carriers — the rule would apparently cost over $214 million in the next 10 years.
But after being sued by the Independent Pilots Association, which represents UPS pilots, the FAA is reconsidering its calculations, saying that mistakes were made and it would like to postpone the lawsuit and go back to the drawing board.
At least one person from the FAA, who remained anonymous, said that the new calculations would still prove that it will cost too much to impose the new rules on cargo carriers. This, of course, will not sit well with UPS’ pilot union.
So what’s the deal? Are packages less important than human lives? While some may think so, this theory isn't really valid. These aircraft share the same airspace and routes with passenger-carrying aircraft. And they fly over the same populated cities and into the same large airports, essentially posing the same risks as any other aircraft with a tired pilot behind the controls.
Cargo pilots are arguing that they are just as fatigued — if not more — than airline pilots. After all, they fly mostly at night, and the studies show that night flying is more dangerous than flying in daylight as far as pilot fatigue is concerned. Add to that the time zone changes experienced on international flights and you have a recipe for fatigued pilots.
The results of the NTSB's crash investigation of UPS Flight 1354 in Birmingham, Alabama, released in September 2014, conclude that pilot fatigue contributed to the accident in which an Airbus 300 crashed in a field short of the runway after flying an unstable approach. Just before the crash, the pilots were heard on the cockpit voice recorder discussing the issues of pilot fatigue in the passenger-carrying world compared to their own fatigue experiences as cargo pilots.
In September 2014, IPA ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal slamming the safety culture of UPS and releasing information on a survey taken by UPS pilots in which 96 percent of those pilots admitted to being fatigued on the job. In addition, the group claims that 86 percent of UPS pilots say that calling in fatigued "invited scrutiny."
Two former NTSB officials came forward, also in September, to urge the industry - and congress - to do something about the issue. Former NTSB Chairmand Jim Hall, along with former NTSB Managing Director Peter Goelz wrote about the issue in an article published on USAToday.com, noting that the issue was a political decision on behalf of Washington, and urging one level of safety for all airline pilots, whether they're flying passengers or not.
The Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) has also been urging congress to include cargo pilots in the new fatigue rules. "Leaving pilots who fly only cargo out of FAR 117 is a serious safety concern and affects everyone who relies on safe air transportation. Congress should pass H.R. 182 and extend the FAR 117 fatigue rules to all pilots," a company statement said.
UPS argues that its pilots already fly fewer hours than pilots of passenger aircraft, and that its pilots are given ample rest time.
The ongoing debate among the NTSB, IPA, FAA, UPS and other industry organizations about pilot fatigue rules is a heated one. Sending the message that cargo pilots and aircraft aren't as important as passenger-carryong airlines is a mistake, according to IPA, and the group continues to lobby against UPS and the FAA for the inclusion of cargo pilots in the FAA's pilot rest rules.