Captain 'Sully' urges rest time for cargo pilots

The pilot of the U.S. Airways flight that landed on the Hudson River in 2009 says the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to order mandatory rest time for cargo pilots.

The FAA issued rules in 2011 that require commercial airline pilots to get at least 10 hours of off-duty time between flight schedules.

Those rules do not apply to cargo planes, but Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger said that needs to change.

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"You wouldn’t want your surgeon operating on you after only 5 hours of sleep, or your passenger pilot flying the airplane after only 5 hours of sleep, and you certainly wouldn’t want a cargo pilot flying a large plane over your house at 3am on 5 hours of sleep trying to find the airport and land," he continued.

The FAA enacted new scheduling rules for commercial airline pilots in the wake of a 2009 crash of a Continental Airlines flight that was blamed partially on pilot fatigue. 

Sullenberger attributed the delay in the FAA applying the scheduling rules to cargo pilots to opposition from the shipping industry.

"There are still many in the industry that are trying to make economic arguments about an important safety issue," he said. "And I think the FAA in its calculations greatly underestimated the harm that could be done due to a large cargo aircraft crash."

Sullenberger pointed to a recent crash of a UPS airplane in Birmingham, Ala., as evidence of the need for more regulation of cargo pilot scheduling.

"It could have been catastrophic," he said of the possibility the plane could have crashed in a populous area.

"It’s a tragedy that the two pilots died, but it could have been much worse," he continued. "And while we don’t yet know how much involvement fatigue played in this crash, I’m sure the investigators are looking at all the factors, this certainly fits the profile of an accident flight that might have." 

— This story was updated at 2:27 p.m.