FAA stands by cargo exclusion from pilot fatigue rules

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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not intend to revise a final rule that excludes cargo carriers from new crew rest rules it issued on 21 December 2011, the administration says in a regulatory filing scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on 12 December.

The agency's filing includes an updated cost-benefit analysis, called an Initial Supplemental Regulatory Impact Analysis, which shows the possible impact of the rule on cargo and passenger operators. The FAA is issuing the revised study after discovering errors in its original analysis, which it first announced in May.

"The Initial Supplemental RIA results in data that provides greater justification for the exclusion of cargo operations from the final rule, and continues to provide justification for the final rule on passenger operations," says the filing. "As a result, the FAA has determined that no revisions to the final rule on either cargo or passenger operations is warranted."

Last December, the FAA issued a regulatory impact analysis (RIA) that it used to develop the new flight, duty and rest requirements for passenger flights. The final rule excludes flight crews for all-cargo operators. Cargo carriers have the ability to voluntarily opt into the rules, which include lengthier rest periods for pilots.

In the updated RIA that the FAA has filed, the nominal cost-benefit analysis over a 12-year period reflects higher costs for cargo-only operations if they were impacted by the rule. In the original RIA, operators that fly both cargo and passengers were excluded from the costs of extending the rule to include cargo operators. The new, initial supplemental RIA includes those carriers, which brings the cost up for these carriers.

The FAA outlined benefits in the original RIA for passenger operators totaling $3.76 billion in a "base case" scenario over the 12-year period, which rises to $4.01 billion in the supplemental RIA, or a difference of $250 million.

Benefits in the" high case" category for these passenger operators were $7.16 billion, which increased to $7.57 billion in the supplemental RIA over the 12-year period. Total costs in the supplemental RIA increased to $4.57 billion compared to $3.9 billion in the original RIA for passenger operators, which represents a total cost difference between the two analyses of $670 million.

For cargo-only operators, the FAA did not calculate the possible benefits in the same manner. Instead, it says it assumed benefits of averting a single catastrophic accident, which would range between $20.35 million and $32.55 million under the original RIA. Base case benefits in the new analysis total $5 million and the high case totals $31 million. Total costs for cargo-only carriers increased from $3 billion to $5.5 billion, or a difference of about $2.4 billion.

Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association (IPA) union representing UPS pilots, says the union plans to file detailed comments regarding the FAA's revised cost-benefit analysis during the comment period.

"We still reject the application of a cost benefit analysis on the FAA's flightcrew member duty and rest requirements; we do not believe that it was Congress' intent to address the important issue of pilot fatigue only if the price-is-right," said Travis in a statement.

The Independent Pilots Association (IPA) filed a lawsuit 22 December 2011. In May, the FAA said that it had found errors in its original RIA that were related to the cost-benefit analysis of implementing the new rule for cargo-only operators. On 17 May, the FAA asked the court of appeals for the District of Columbia to suspend the litigation of those rules while it corrected the errors. The new cost-benefit analysis is presented in the new analysis scheduled to appear in the Federal Register on 12 December.

FedEx, another US-based cargo carrier that is excluded under the rule, says that the FAA's rules allow it to create a customized programme to combat fatigue.

"These findings emphatically confirm that the FAA made the right call in allowing cargo carriers to develop customized, practical fatigue mitigation programs like the one FedEx currently has in place," says the Memphis-based carrier in a statement.

The FAA worked with the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Centre to review its original analysis and correct the errors. The centre is part of the US Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

Comments on the filing are due 60 days from 12 December.

UPS declined to comment.