End the Carveout: All-Cargo Flight-Time/Duty-Time

By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, opens the all-cargo flight-time/duty-time meeting.

More than two dozen pilots assembled at the Association's headquarters in Washington, D.C., on May 8 to discuss flight-time/duty-time concerns for all-cargo pilots. In attendance were representatives from ALPA pilot groups along with members of Teamsters Local Union No. 1224, which represents pilots from several all-cargo air carriers, and the Independent Pilots Association (IPA), which represents the pilots of UPS.

At the follow-up to the All-Cargo Symposium held in April (see “All-Cargo Conversation Focused on Safety, Security, and Flight/Duty Time” in the May 2019 issue), Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, emphasized that “the phrase ‘one level of safety’ means something to me.”

The cargo carveout from FAR Part 117’s fatigue rules stems from a flawed cost-benefit analysis of the regulations in 2012 as applied to all-cargo operations compared to passenger operations. “The conclusions of the report cited the costs to the all-cargo industry as being $550 million over a 12-year period, while providing a benefit of only $31 million,” said Capt. Brian Noyes (United), ALPA’s Flight Time/Duty Time Committee chair. “This, however, only factors in the aircraft, the crew, and its contents. It fails to consider numerous other factors that can occur in an accident, like the location. Recent accidents, like Atlas Air Flight 3591, have been in sparsely populated areas. But move the accident site 10 miles to the west, and that places it in the heart of downtown Houston.”

A major focus of the meeting was whether pilots wanted to reopen the rulemaking process to refine Part 117 or simply lobby to include all-cargo operations in the rule. “Because of the type of operations all-cargo pilots fly, they are the ones who truly need the science-based rules of Part 117 the most,” said Dr. Peter Dimitry, a fatigue consultant.

“Science has yet to discover any biological differences between pilots who fly passengers and ones who fly all cargo,” said Capt. Rich Hughey (FedEx Express), ALPA’s President’s Committee for Cargo chair. “Both operate large airplanes in the same airspace and, in many instances, at the same airports in the same cities while doing the same job. There is no basis for one group of pilots to have different or less safe fatigue rules.”

“We are strongly in favor of seeing cargo operations under Part 117,” said Capt. Robert Travis (UPS), IPA president. “Our union sued the FAA to end the exemption in the wake of the UPS Airlines Flight 1354 accident in Birmingham in 2013. We pointed out to the NTSB that if all-cargo operations were in the regulation the trip line the flight crew flew would never have been allowed, as it was the most noncompliant of the 650-plus in the system. But even with the data in hand, the message fell upon deaf ears.”

U.S. Senate bill S.826, the Safe Skies Act of 2019, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is currently being reviewed in committee. It calls for the inclusion of all-cargo operations in Part 117 rules.

“There are passenger carriers that would like to revise Part 117 for their benefit and not the pilots’ benefit. For instance, the passenger industry would love to see ‘legal to start, legal to finish’ inserted. So this act appears to be a great opportunity for all-cargo pilots to get into Part 117,” said Russ Leighton, aviation safety coordinator for Teamsters Local 1224 and director of safety for the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations. “Standing up another Aviation Rulemaking Committee can be very risky, and with new players like Amazon entering the industry, we would stand to lose many of the gains we currently enjoy.”

This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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