FAA grounds request to add cargo planes to pilot fatigue rules

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“On May 17, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to suspend the litigation of its 2011 Flight Crew Member Duty and Rest Requirements rule while the agency corrected some errors found in the FAA’s cost-benefit analysis for cargo operations," the agency said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. 

"The FAA asked the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to review the cargo analysis," the FAA statement continued. "Volpe’s review and analysis reconfirms and supports the final fatigue rule the FAA issued last year. It shows that the FAA’s decision to establish new mandatory flight, duty and rest requirements for flight crews in passenger operations and to exclude flight crews in cargo-only operations from the new requirements remains cost-justified."        

The formulation of new fatigue rules for commercial airline pilots was included in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Act that was passed by Congress in 2010. The measure directed the FAA to craft the specific regulations that would be applied to airline pilots' work schedules.

Under the rules finalized by the FAA in 2011, commercial airline pilots are required to get at least 10 hours of off-duty time between flight schedules. Department of Transportation officials said the gap would give them at least the opportunity to get eight hours of sleep before they get into the cockpit.

The rule also limits commercial pilots to no more than nine hours of "flight time," which the FAA considers to be any time an airplane is moving on its own power, even if it is on the ground at airport. Pilots would also be limited to 28 working days in a month.

The UPS pilots' union said Tuesday that it was unhappy with the FAA's decision to maintain the exemption to the rules for cargo pilots. 

"We still reject the application of a cost benefit analysis on the FAA’s Flightcrew Member Duty and Rest Requirements," IPA President Robert Travis said in a statement. "We do not believe that it was Congress’ intent to address the important issue of pilot fatigue only if the price-is-right." 

Travis said the IPA was not satisfied with the FAA's six-month review of its original decision on exempting cargo pilots.  

"Having initially reviewed the FAA’s Initial Supplemental Regulatory Impact Analysis we find it to be flawed, just like its original analysis that was used to carve-out cargo carriers," Travis said. "The IPA will file detailed comment on the ISRIA and will release more details at that time.”

The shipping companies themselves have supported the FAA's decision to leave cargo pilots out of the fatigue rules. FedEx said last year that a bill that was filed to force the FAA to apply the fatigue rules to cargo pilots was a "one-sized fits all approach."

The legislation was sponsored by Reps. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) and Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), but Cravaack was defeated in his bid for reelection last month.