The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is re-evaluating its decision to exclude cargo carriers from a slate of new crew rest rules finalised in December.
It has asked the court of appeals for the District of Columbia to suspend the litigation of the rules, while it "corrects inadvertent errors found in the FAA's cost-benefit analysis for cargo flight operations", says the agency in a statement.
"The FAA will ask an outside group to review the cargo analysis and then will reissue the cargo analysis for public comment. The content and effective date of the passenger rule is not affected by today's court proceedings."
The rules, which mandate longer rest periods for pilots before flights and require them to have longer periods of duty-free time on a weekly basis, apply only to pilots of passenger-carrying airlines. US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had said they would be too costly to implement for the cargo sector.
The exclusion prompted the filing of a lawsuit by UPS pilot union Independent Pilots Association (IPA) in late December, asking for cargo operations to be included in the scope of the rule.
Key elements of the rule, which passenger airlines will have two years to implement from December 2011, include requiring a minimum 10h rest period for pilots before a flight, up 2h from the current rule; defining flight duty time to include deadheading, simulator training and other duties as assigned by the airline, and requiring pilots to have at least 30h consecutive duty-free time on a weekly basis, a 25% increase from current rules.
There are also new monthly limits and a stipulation that a pilot sign off on the flight plan before a flight that he or she is fit for duty. Airlines will be required to switch out pilots who have determined they are not fit for duty.
LaHood had said in December that cargo airlines could impose the rules voluntarily, a decision that the IPA had said "makes as much sense as allowing truckers to 'opt-out' of drunk driving laws".
The union welcomed the move by the FAA to re-evaluate the exclusion of cargo operations from the rules. "In the context of our lawsuit, the FAA is now willing to allow for an open and public examination of the costs and benefits of having one level of aviation safety," says IPA president Robert Travis. "The IPA welcomes this development".
In December, Travis had said that allowing fatigued cargo pilots to share the same skies with properly rested passenger pilots "creates an unnecessary threat to public safety".