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A UPS aircraft takes off at Louisville International Airport. / John Sommers II, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

WASHINGTON -- As federal officials continue investigating last year's fatal UPS crash in Alabama, the freight carrier's pilots are pressing to be covered by the same rules that require passenger airline crews to get more rest.

The cargo pilots have filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration to bring them under those regulations and are backing legislation in Congress to do the same thing.

"It's in the public interest," as a matter of safety, to include cargo pilots under the tightened duty and rest rules, said Bill Trent, general counsel for the Independent Pilots Association, which represents more than 2,600 UPS pilots.

The rules for commercial passenger airline pilots - enacted in January - essentially limit their flying time to eight or nine hours, depending on when their shifts start. Carriers also are required to give their cockpit crews a minimum of 10 hours off in a way that allows the pilots to get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Passenger airline pilots also must work shorter hours if they are flying overnight.

Cargo pilots fly under older rules that do not require as much rest, permit longer times on duty and allow them to fly beyond eight hours in certain conditions. And those rules do not impose any special limits on flight time at night, when cargo carriers do much of their flying.

The FAA, meanwhile, has revised its economic rationale behind exempting cargo pilots, saying it would cost the industry $550 million to comply, outweighing safety benefits. Originally, it said the rules would cost an additional $214 million.

"As a result, the FAA has determined that no revisions to the final rule on either cargo or passenger operations is warranted," the agency said in a regulatory filing expected to be finalized by July.

The Cargo Airline Association, which represents UPS and other cargo carriers, said in comments submitted to the government on the FAA revision that the agency "has correctly concluded that the costs overwhelm the benefits."

But Trent said the FAA's cost estimates for the cargo industry are overstated by at least $235 million.

"We believe we will ultimately succeed, if not through the courts, then through legislation," he said.

UPS spokesman Mike Mangeot said the carrier is not commenting on the lawsuit because "it's between the union and the FAA."

But the airline opposes the legislation requiring cargo pilots to be covered by the new anti-fatigue rules, arguing that its own rules are sufficient.

"We believe we go to great lengths to provide for crew rest, and the proposed legislation doesn't fit," Mangeot said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation of the Aug. 14 crash of a UPS Airbus A300-600 at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Alabama. Capt. Cerea Beal, 58, of Matthews, N.C., and First Officer Shanda Carney Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tenn., were killed on the flight, which originated in Louisville.

At the board's public hearing on the accident last month, a transcript of the conversation in the cockpit while the pilots were preparing the plane for takeoff shows that Beal and Fanning complained of fatigue and said rest rules for pilots of commercial passenger planes should apply to them as well.

"It should be one level of safety for everybody," Beal told Fanning.

That is precisely the argument the UPS pilots, their allies in Congress and many safety experts are making.

"We need to heed their words," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said after the NTSB hearing. Beal and Fanning "clearly knew the dangers they faced due to the lack of safe work hours for cargo pilots, and in their names we should pass" the measure to extend the new rules to cargo pilots.

Boxer's bill, dubbed the Safe Skies Act, has four co-sponsors. A similar House bill has been introduced by New York Reps. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Timothy Bishop, a Democrat.

Neither bill has had a committee hearing yet, but Boxer spokesman Peter True said the senators are building support. Bishop is doing the same in the House, spokeswoman Krystyna Baumgartner said.

The NTSB is aiming to complete its investigation of the Alabama crash, find a probable cause and issue safety recommendations before the accident's first anniversary.

The new FAA rest rules, issued in 2011, resulted from earlier legislation Boxer and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, got through Congress after a 2009 commuter plane crash near Buffalo killed 50 people.

In that case, the NTSB found that fatigue probably affected the pilots' performance.

The FAA estimated the new rules would cost the commercial passenger airline industry $297 million over a decade.

It encouraged cargo operators to abide voluntarily by the new rules - but stopped short of requiring them to do so.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman urged the FAA to reconsider the "cargo carve out" after it issued its rules.

"A tired pilot is a tired pilot, whether there are 10 paying customers on board or 100, whether the payload is passengers or pallets," she said.

The UPS pilots sued the FAA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia immediately after the rules were issued, arguing there should be one standard of safety for all carriers and that the agency had no legal authority to exempt cargo pilots.

The court case is on hold as the FAA revises its analysis for leaving cargo pilots out of the rules. But the agency has not changed its position.

UPS' Mangeot, meanwhile, said "crew rest is a complex concept."

"For some, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that a pilot who flies at night must be tired," he said. "It's also easy to presume that if they are tired, it's induced by their assigned work schedule. Neither is necessarily accurate."

The typical UPS pilot is on duty 70 hours per month and actually flies about 30 hours per month, he said, adding that those duty days are "well within FAA limits."

In addition, the cargo carrier's maximum domestic scheduled duty day is shorter than the FAA's maximum, and pilots are provided with rest periods that are 25 percent to 50 percent longer than those required by the government rules, Mangeot said.

UPS also conducts a fatigue management program in cooperation with the union and provides sleep facilities for pilots at its major gateways.

"We believe those measures are appropriate," Mangeot said, adding that cargo operations are significantly different than passenger carriers because, in general, cargo pilots fly fewer hours and make fewer takeoffs and landings.

But the UPS pilots union, Hersman and other safety experts argue that cargo pilots may be even more susceptible to fatigue because they fly so much at night, a time the industry calls "the back of the clock."

"If there's any difference, the difference would argue for more stringent operations at cargo carriers," said Tom Devine, another attorney representing the UPS pilots.

Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association International, which represents almost 50,000 pilots at 31 airlines, including UPS competitor FedEx, said that "it is becoming more apparent that separate rest requirements for cargo and passenger pilots is unsustainable, unsupportable, and unconscionable."

"Pilots who operate in the same skies, take off from the same airports, and fly over the same terrain must be given the same opportunities for full rest, regardless of what is in the back of the plane," Moak said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: UPS pilots urge more rest for cargo crews

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