The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is continuing to push US lawmakers to consider a bill that would include cargo pilots in new flight and duty time regulations passed by the US Federal Aviation Administration. However, the way the US Senate passes bills in Washington is making it difficult to change the rules.
The bill, known as the Safe Skies Act of 2013, was re-introduced by New York representatives Michael Grimm and Tim Bishop in January after another attempt for House consideration in 2012. But little progress has been made since then to push it through Congress, despite continued support from ALPA president Lee Moak in January.
"It's a tough environment to pass something like Safe Skies right now," says Rich Swayze, professional staff member on an aviation operations, safety and security subcommittee within the US Senate's committee on commerce, science and transportation. He was speaking at ALPA's Air Safety Forum on 17 July in Washington, D.C.
Swayze says that while the argument for cargo pilots to be included in the rule "does resonate with a lot of members," not many pieces of legislation in general are being considered on the Senate floor. The bill, which was introduced in the House, would most likely have to be passed via "unanimous consent," in the Senate, which is a method the chamber commonly uses to save time in the rulemaking process. But before that could happen, Congress would first have to find a middle ground on the issue, he says. That does not appear to have happened so far.
Despite opposition from ALPA and the Independent Pilots Association (IPA) union that represents the United Parcel Service, the new crew rest rules still only apply to pilots flying passenger aircraft. US Transportation secretary Ray LaHood had said in 2011 that it would be too costly for cargo carriers to implement them. Cargo carriers can voluntarily opt into the rules, which go into effect in December.
The FAA is confident that the industry has the tools to implement the new pilot fatigue regulations come the end of the year, says Peggy Gilligan, associate administrator for aviation safety.
"We are confident that both the FAA and the operators will be prepared to implement the new system," says Gilligan.
The new pilot fatigue rules include several new requirements to give pilots more rest time in between flights, such as adjusting duty requirements based on the time of day that pilots are flying, limiting flight time to 8h or 9h and providing a minimum of 10h for rest.
The FAA used an analysis to develop the flight duty and rest requirements, but it had to revise an initial study after discovering errors in the way it assessed how much the rule would cost to implement. In May, it announced it would perform another study, which was published last November. The FAA upheld its initial stance after the results of the new study showed that cargo operators would have to pay higher costs than it previously indicated.
In response, the IPA unveiled its own study in February to challenge the FAA's, saying the FAA overstated costs and understated benefits of including the cargo carriers in the rule.
Airlines for America also supports the "carve out" of cargo carriers in the rule and urged Congress not to push through the Safe Skies Act.