UPS Crash Probe Focuses on Fatigue as U.S. Hearing Set

U.S. crash investigators are focusing on pilot fatigue, training and adherence to procedures in the fatal Aug. 14 crash of a United Parcel Service Inc. jet freighter in Birmingham, Alabama.

The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a one-day hearing into the accident Feb. 20 to examine issues including whether pilots are fit for duty when they report to work and how well they monitor instruments and follow airline policies, according to an e-mailed statement today.

Both UPS pilots died when the twin-engine Airbus A300-600F plane struck a hillside short of the runway at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport shortly before dawn. Atlanta-based UPS is the world’s largest package-delivery company.

The NTSB will call witnesses to discuss how UPS trains pilots for approaches like the one the accident crew was flying to Birmingham, which required them to stay clear of unlit hills near the runway without a radio beam to ensure they were at the correct altitude, according to the release.

The hearing will also examine how well pilots communicate with each other, the ways they check themselves and each other, and “fatigue and fitness for duty,” the agency said in the release.

UPS Response

“We have been actively engaged in the NTSB’s investigation since it began,” Malcolm Berkley, a UPS spokesman, said in an e-mail. “This hearing is another step in the process of determining the cause and how to avoid such an accident in the future.”

The safety board will open its investigative files for the first time at the hearing. Among the items released will be a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder and preliminary reports from investigators. The NTSB’s findings about the cause for the accident won’t be released until later.

Runway 18 at the Birmingham airport lacked an instrument landing system, according to information released by the NTSB in the days after the crash, and a larger runway was closed at the time of the attempted landing for repairs.

As the jet approached the airport after a flight from UPS’s air hub in Louisville, Kentucky, a cockpit alert warned pilots they were descending too quickly 7 seconds before the first impact, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said after the accident.

The plane hit trees and a utility pole before striking a grassy hill and bursting into flames.

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