The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is hoping it can get some airline industry members to support a new bill that would force cargo carriers to comply with the ’s new crew rest requirements for pilots when they take effect in early 2014.
Michael Robbins, ALPA’s director of government affairs, says he expects it will take some time to build congressional support for the bill, which was introduced April 16 by Reps. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), a former Northwest Airlines pilot, is vice chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.). signed on as a cosponsor of H.R. 4350.
The bill directs the secretary of transportation to apply the rule to all-cargo operations “in the same manner as [they] apply to passenger operations.”
The airline industry’s largest trade group, Airlines for America, already is voicing its “strong opposition” to the legislation.
Robbins acknowledges getting Congress to consider such a bill right now, before the election and while it is confronting challenges passing any legislation, is an uphill battle. But he suggested pilots have plenty of time to make their case for the issue to be taken up after the election—and will need the time to get Congress on board.
Many legislators are not even aware that all-cargo carriers were exempted from the new rules, he says.
“We’ve got a big education effort we’ve got to undertake, in addition to the advocacy effort,” he says. One of the arguments he will be making, he adds, is that while some of the bigger cargo carriers are doing many of the right things when it comes to combating pilot fatigue, that does not mean all of them are.
The legislation is one of two tracks pilots have undertaken to try to compel cargo carrier inclusion in the rule. The other is a lawsuit filed against the FAA by the Independent Pilots Association (IPA), the union representingpilots; the Cargo Airline Association has intervened in the lawsuit to defend the FAA’s decision-making.
The IPA’s initial brief in the case is due April 24, but final briefs are not due until July.
Cargo carriers were included in the rule as originally proposed in September 2010. But the FAA says it dropped them from the final rule it issued in December because “covering cargo carriers under the new rule would be too costly, compared to the benefits generated in this portion of the industry.” Passenger carrier benefits did outweigh the costs because they are carrying more people, and U.S. Transportation Department () regulators apply a $6.2 million value to “statistical life.”
At a press briefing on Dec. 21 to unveil the new rules, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood noted that federal regulators are obligated to take the cost-benefit analysis into account.
In its court filing to intervene in the IPA case, the Cargo Airline Association defended that decision as the “rational, cost-benefit justified approach.”
At an ALPA-hosted Air Cargo Safety & Security Conference April 17, however, pilots continued to make the case that exempting cargo is not logical—or safe, given that the physiology of pilots is the same no matter for whom who they fly.
“Carving us out is akin to telling bus drivers you have fatigue requirements, [but] truck drivers, you’re just hauling freight, so it doesn’t matter,” argues Bill Soer, a Federal Express pilot and chairman of the president’s committee for cargo at ALPA. About 15% of flights in the U.S. are operated by cargo carriers, he says, so “if we’re out there flying tired, did you really make the entire system any safer?”