U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he’ll meet with officials of United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) and FedEx Corp. (FDX) to urge the two cargo airlines to adopt pilot-fatigue rules imposed on passenger carriers.
Following up on a promise he made in December, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced the new work-hour restrictions wouldn’t apply to cargo carriers, LaHood said today he’ll try to use the power of persuasion. The meeting will occur tomorrow, Justin Nisly, a spokesman for the department, said in an e-mail.
“I hope they’ll voluntarily adopt our guidelines,” LaHood said in an interview at a conference in Washington. “We’re going to have a conversation. This is a good rule and I’m going to ask them to consider it.”
The FAA, in a reversal from what it had proposed in 2010, said Dec. 21 that it would exempt cargo airlines from pilot work rules designed to reduce fatigue.
LaHood said at the time that he would invite chief executive officers of cargo carriers to his office to discuss the rule and its safety benefits.
Cargo carriers were exempted in the final rule because the costs of applying the rules to them were too high compared with the estimated safety benefit of preventing crashes and deaths, LaHood said then.
Since cargo planes don’t carry passengers, there would be fewer deaths prevented than on passenger carriers and therefore less benefit under government formulas.
Passenger-airline pilots will work fewer hours a day and get longer guaranteed rest periods under the new rule, the first revision of fatigue standards since 1985. They take effect in December 2013.
The rule attempts to apply several decades of research into human fatigue. It will lower the number of hours pilots may work in a 24-hour period when they fly late at night, cross numerous time zones or make multiple landings and takeoffs.
Under existing rules, which will still apply to cargo airlines, pilots may work as many as 16 hours during a 24-hour period regardless of when their shifts begin.
The rest period for cargo pilots will still be as few as eight hours. Passenger pilots will get at least 10 hours off between shifts under the new rules.
‘Most Wanted’ Enhancements
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates airline and other transportation accidents, lists fatigue as one of its “Most Wanted” safety enhancements.
The UPS position is that the rule shouldn’t be applied to cargo flights because the company operates so differently from passenger carriers, Mike Mangeot, a company spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement today.
While UPS has more overnight routes than passenger carriers, its pilots fly fewer hours per month and it has built rest facilities at some hubs in which pilots can nap between flights, he said.
“We do plan to sit down with Secretary LaHood and see what he has to say,” Mangeot said. “We are certainly open to options that will improve aviation safety and we’re certainly open to working with the FAA to enhance best practices in crew rest.”
The Independent Pilots Association, which represents UPS’s 2,600 pilots, filed suit Dec. 22 in an attempt to overturn the cargo exemption.
The union, in a Jan. 19 letter it released by e-mail today, asked the Atlanta-based company to agree to operate under the new rules. The company turned down the request, union President Robert Travis said in a letter to LaHood today.
“I applaud your initiative in seeking voluntary compliance from the all-cargo industry,” Travis said. “We agree that legitimate reasons do not exist for these carriers to operate outside of the new science-based pilot duty and rest rules.”
Maury Donahue, a FedEx spokeswoman, didn’t have an immediate comment.
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