After a few decades of delay, and despite strong urging from the NTSB, the National Safety Council, pilot unions , and any other group or agency that is concerned about aviation, the FAA has capitalized on three years of study and decades of sleep-deprivation research and have reached the following conclusion: Pilots that fly passengers for hire under the stringent rules of FAR 121 which governs all of the operating parameters for airlines along with the commuter airlines, must have their flight and duty times decreased in order to enhance aviation safety and reduce the increased probability of a tired pilot crashing an airplane. We all remember the Continental flight 3407 (operated by Colgan Air) that crashed in Buffalo, New York with two “dead-tired” pilots at the controls.
There is, however, an interesting caveat relating to this new aviation safety-enhancing legislation, and that is, very simply: cargo-carrying airlines, (such as Fed-Ex or UPS) are exempt from the new rules. The next immediate question is: Do cargo pilots require less sleep than passenger pilots? Of course not, but money and politics have once again trumped aviation safety. We all remember the 1970s Harvard Business School mantra of “maximum utilization of human resources.” This is one more example of that axiom being employed at the expense of aviation safety. An interesting addition to this travesty is that a little research into aviation accident investigations will reveal that far more cargo airplanes are involved in accidents and incidents than passenger carrying airplanes. The cargo “freight-dog” pilots who often operate on the “back-side” of the clock and have their fatigue factor intensified by circadian rhythm dysfunction.
As one might expect, the cargo pilots and their unions have very wisely jumped into this fray and are now filing lawsuits to eliminate this severely mis-guided shortsightedness by the FAA. In December, 2011 The Independent Pilots Association (IPA) that represent 2,700 pilots who fly for UPS, filed a petition asking the federal appeals court to review the rules.
The FAA very recently decided to review the rules after stating that it made “errors” in cost calculations used to justify the exemption. That is a glaring example of a confession of a decision that was made regarding aviation safety that once again placed corporate profits ahead of the possible consequences of a Boeing 747 filled with cargo, (perhaps hazardous material) flown by tired pilots that crashes into the hospital. If there was ever high-level government officials left with “egg-on-their-face” this is a high-level glaring example.
This blog was prepared by Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator (www.therogueaviator.com)