Tighter US pilot safety rules leave cargo operators exempt

Air cargo carriers in the United States have escaped new federal regulations that require airline pilots more rest between flights. The Federal Aviation Administration announced “sweeping” changes yesterday, in which minimum rest requirements will vary, based on the time of day pilots begin their first flight, the number of scheduled flights and the number of time zones they cross.

The rules will mean duty for pilots is limited to between nine and 14 hours for single-crew operations, including a maximum eight or nine hour flight time, while rest periods will be at least 10 hours, two hours more than was required by the old rules.

“The new rule gives pilots enough time to get the rest they really need to safely get passengers to their destinations,” said US transportation secretary Ray Hood.

The FAA said its regulations were based on “fatigue science”, but the rules apply only to pilots of commercial passenger aircraft.

“Covering cargo operators under the new rule would be too costly compared to the benefits generated in this portion of the industry,” said the FAA, adding that some cargo airlines were already acting to improve rest facilities for pilots.

“The FAA encourages cargo operators to opt into the new rule voluntarily,” said the air industry regulator.

Lobbying pressure

The exemption for cargo carriers has seen the FAA accused of buckling under “intense” lobbying from the cargo industry.

The Independent Pilots Association, the union for UPS pilots, today filed a lawsuit challenging the exemption in the US Court of Appeals.

It wants the regulation reviewed and cargo operations included with its scope, stating that it makes little sense to allow “fatigued” cargo pilots to share the skies with properly-rested passenger pilots.

The lawsuit particularly raises concern about cumulative fatigue impacts on pilots making repeated flights at night.

The IPA’s suit suggests the FAA has not done enough to justify the exemption, and casts doubt on the FAA’s figures for potential costs imposing the regulations on cargo operators, since the figures were supplied by the cargo operators themselves. “Carriers have been known to overstate the cost impacts of rules they wish to avoid,” it said.

Captain Robert Travis, the IPA president, said: “Giving air cargo carriers the choice to opt in to new pilot rest rules makes as much sense as allowing truckers to ‘opt out’ of drunk driving laws.”

Travis said while the IPA worked to force an end to the exemption, it would also press UPS to voluntarily opt in to the regulation.

“UPS is a premier company and our expectation is that UPS will honour their longstanding pledge to operate the world’s safest airline,” said Travis.

ALPA, the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents passenger and cargo pilots, said it was “disappointed” that cargo operations were being held to a lesser standard than passenger flights.

“ALPA will continue to strongly advocate for one level of safety for all types of flight operations and across the airline industry,” said ALPA president Lee Moak.

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