Doomed pilots complained of fatigue

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Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Thursday that Congress should place limits on the number of hours the pilots of cargo airplanes can work in honor of the operators of a UPS flight that crashed last year in Birmingham, Ala.

Boxer's call followed the release of a dramatic transcript in which the pilots of the plane, who both died in the crash, express concern about their fatigue. 

They also suggest the rules for cargo flights should be changed so that they are equal to rules for commercial flights. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2010 required airlines to allow their pilots to get at least 10 hours of off-duty time between flights.

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"We have two extra hours today in Birmingham," one pilot on the UPS flight says, according to the transcript released by the National Transportation Safety Board. "Rockford is only fourteen hours ... rest. So you figure a thirty minute ride to [the] hotel ... by the time you go to sleep you are down to about twelve [hours].

"This is where, ah, the passenger side, you know, the new rules, they're gonna make out," the pilot continues. "We need that too. I mean I ... don't get that. You know it should be one level of safety for everybody."

The co-pilot of the flight appeared to agree with the UPS captain's scheduling complaints.

"And to be honest ... it should be across the board," the co-pilot said, "to be honest, in my opinion, whether you are flying passengers or cargo or, you know, box of chocolates at night, if you're flying this time of day."

Boxer called the pilots' remarks "stunning." 

“In the wake of the tragic deaths of Captain Cerea Beal Jr. and First Officer Shanda Fanning, we need to heed their words,” Boxer said in a statement. “They clearly knew the dangers they faced due to the lack of safe work hours for cargo pilots and in their names we should pass the Safe Skies Act.”

A bill has been filed in both the House and Senate to apply the scheduling rules for commercial pilots to cargo flight captains. The measure has been dubbed the "Safe Skies Act."

Supporters say the measure would provide one level of safety for all airplane operations in the U.S.