Bill filed to apply FAA fatigue rules to cargo pilots

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is introducing legislation to apply Federal Aviation Administration scheduling rules for avoiding fatigue among commercial airline pilots to pilots flying cargo airplanes.

The legislation addresses a gap in new fatigue rules announced by the FAA last year that were crafted in response to the crash of a regional airline jet in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009.

The doomed flight was Colgan Air Flight 3407, which was operated for Continental Airlines. Federal accident inspectors ruled that fatigue had been a factor in the crash, and the families of victims of the crash have lobbied Congress to tighten its regulation of the aviation industry.

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The FAA responded late in 2011 with new rules that require airlines to allow their pilots to get at least 10 hours of off-duty time between flight schedules, which transportation officials have said would give them at least the opportunity to get eight hours of sleep before they get to the cockpit.

But the new rules only applied to pilots flying airplanes carrying human passengers, not those at the helm of cargo planes such as the ones operated by companies like UPS and FedEx.

Reps. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) and Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) said this week that they were introducing legislation to change that.

The measure, H.R. 4350, would apply the same rules the FAA has scheduled to go into effect in 2014 for commercial pilots to flying cargo airplanes.

Cravaack said the bill, which has been dubbed 'the Safe Skies Act of 2012,' was vital to the safety of the overall national aviation system.

“As a former cargo pilot, I understand the importance of a single standard of safety for pilots who share the same airspace and runways with passenger aircraft," Cravaack said in a news release announcing the filing of the bill.

"I introduced the Safe Skies Act in order to apply the new, common sense standard for pilot rest to cargo pilots as well," he continued.

The lobbying group for commercial pilots, the Washington, D.C.-based Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), is supportive of the bill to apply the fatigue rules to cargo pilots.

“All airline pilots are human beings, and all airline operations should benefit from the same high safety standards," ALPA President Lee Moak said in a statement this week.

"This bill would achieve what Congress intended when it passed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Act of 2010 (P.L. 11-216), by mandating that the FAA’s regulations apply to all commercial airline pilots, regardless of whether they fly passengers or cargo," Moak continued. "ALPA urges Congress to take up and pass the Cravaack-Bishop bill as swiftly as possible.”

The Independent Pilots Association union for UPS pilots, which is also based in Washington, said it supports the measure.  

"The Cravaack-Bishop Safe Skies Act of 2012 will bring the FAA’s final rule back in line with Congress’s original intent, one level of safety for U.S. aviation," IPA President Robert Travis said in a statement.