The campaign to include cargo airline pilots in the U.S. under the FAA’s new flight crew member duty and rest rule gained support in Congress with the introduction of legislation on April 16 that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to apply the rule “in the same manner” for passenger and cargo operations.
U.S. Congressman Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), sponsor of the Safe Skies Act of 2012 (HR 4350), announced the bill at an air cargo conference April 17 in Washington, D.C., organized by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). “Whether you’re flying boxes or passengers it’s irrelevant to a smoking hole that’s left in the ground because it doesn’t care what the load was,” said Cravaack, a former Navy and Northwest Airlines pilot. “The same skies and same runways are being used for cargo and passenger aircraft. A fatigued cargo pilot is the same [potential danger] as a fatigued passenger pilot…One level of safety must be the rule and not the exception.”
Though serving his first term in Congress, Cravaack is well positioned to challenge the FAA’s new Part 117 duty rule as vice chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. He got there by defeating long-serving House Transportation Committee member and chairman James Oberstar, a Democrat, in their Minnesota district in November 2010.
The FAA announced the final rule December 21 and has set a compliance date of Jan. 14, 2014. At the time, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he planned to invite cargo carrier CEOs to Washington to encourage them to “opt in” to the rule. However, a March 1 meeting with several carriers failed to produce agreement. The Independent Pilots Association (IPA), representing 2,650 UPS pilots, has filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit seeking an amendment to include cargo operations. The IPA’s legal challenge continues, with oral arguments expected to begin in December, followed by a possible ruling in February 2013 or later.
ALPA’s “Closing the Gaps” cargo conference afforded the FAA’s associate administrator for aviation safety, Margaret “Peggy” Gilligan, an opportunity to elaborate on the agency’s rulemaking process and the reason it excluded cargo operations from Part 117. “No one puts a value on human life, but the truth is, there are ways to analyze what the societal benefits will be and we do that by estimating what the public is willing to pay to avoid injury or fatalities,” Gilligan said. “Right now, in the Department of Transportation, the value that has been determined that society is willing to pay is a little over $6 million per person who might be affected by the accident. That’s how we start to identify benefits.”