Pilots Say Cargo Lobby Influenced FAA Fatigue Rule

 - January 4, 2012, 12:08 AM
Pilots represented by the FedEx Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association are unhappy that the FAA's new rule on pilot flight duty and rest requirements excludes cargo carriers. (Photo: Boeing)

Pilot unions say they were outgunned by a cargo industry lobby that convinced the FAA to exclude air cargo operations from its new flightcrew member duty and rest requirements, a rule they vow to amend.

The Independent Pilots Association (IPA), representing 2,600 UPS pilots, filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on December 22, the day after the FAA announced completion of the rule. The court has issued a scheduling order requiring the IPA to file various documents, including a preliminary statement of issues it expects to raise in the case, by January 23. By February 6 the FAA must file an index of its regulatory docket and any other information the agency used in reaching its decision.

The IPA and the FedEx Master Executive Council (MEC) of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents FedEx Express pilots, contend that the FAA was swayed by more than science in issuing a “science-based” pilot fatigue rule without requiring cargo carriers to participate. “Congress directed the FAA to create new science-based flight and duty rules to establish one level of aviation safety to protect the public,” said Capt. Robert Travis, IPA president. “[U]nder intense pressure from the cargo industry lobby, the FAA has failed to carry out this basic congressional mandate.”

The FedEx MEC in a statement called the rule “a political failure,” adding that “cargo carrier lobbyists were able to use a protracted backroom process to convince federal policymakers” to exclude cargo operations. ALPA welcomed the rule, but also expressed disappointment over the exclusion of cargo operations.

“To be clear, ALPA was pitted against a very strong cargo lobbying group that was able to convince the [Obama] Administration that the cargo carriers could not afford and would go out of business if included in the new science-based rule, despite being the most profitable sector of the airline industry,” the association said.

The FAA explained in the final rule that it excluded all-cargo operations “because their compliance costs significantly exceed the quantified societal benefits.” In a footnote, the agency said the projected cost of compliance for cargo operations amounts to $306 million, while the benefit of avoiding one fatal all-cargo accident ranges from $20 million to $32 million depending on the number of crewmembers on board the aircraft.

The IPA argues that “simply no indication” exists of how the agency derived the projected cost, and it posits that cargo carriers supplied the cost information after the comment period ended for the earlier notice of proposed rulemaking.

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