NTSB boots UPS and IPA union from flight 1354 inquiry

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The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has booted both UPS and the Independent Pilots Association (IPA) from its investigation into the deadly crash of UPS flight 1354 last year.

The agency notified both organisations in letters dated 25 August that their “party status” to the inquiry has been terminated after each posted public comments about the investigation.

The agency says those comments violated agreements it had with UPS and IPA.

“If one party disseminates information about the accident, it may reflect that party’s bias,” says the NTSB, which can grant “party status” to organisations that can provide technical assistance during an investigation.

“This puts the other parties at a disadvantage and makes them less willing to engage in the process, which can undercut the entire investigation,” the NTSB adds.

UPS flight 1354, an Airbus A300-600 freighter, crashed in the early hours of 14 August while on approach to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International airport, killing Captain Cerea Beal Jr. and first officer Shanda Fanning.

The NTSB has said investigators found no evidence of mechanical malfunction with the aircraft, but the issue of fatigue was raised following a release of the cockpit voice recorder transcript, on which the pilots discuss being tired.

IPA’s violation occurred in a 13 August media release in which the group, which represents some 2,600 UPS pilots, says fatigue played a role in the crash.

"What we didn't know then, but suspected, was the role fatigue played in this accident," says IPA president Robert Travis in the release. "Once the cockpit voice recorder transcripts were released, there was no doubt.”

The release also calls for elimination of a provision that exempts all-cargo airlines from pilot rest and operating rules that went into effect for passenger operators in January.

One day later, UPS violated its agreement with the NTSB when it responded to IPA in a post on Aircargoworld.com, says the NTSB.

“Despite union rhetoric, the facts of Flight 1354 do not support changing rest rules for cargo crewmembers,” UPS writes. “Just because all pilots sit in cockpits does not mean they experience the same conditions.”

UPS accuses IPA of “distorting the facts” for political gain and says both pilots’ schedules would have met the new federal rest requirements.

“It doesn’t matter who started it,” says the NTSB of the organisations’ online tussle. “Neither action is acceptable.”

UPS has asked the NTSB to reconsider its decision, telling Flightglobal it has been “unfairly reprimanded for attempting to set the facts straight and defending our brand."

“We maintain that our actions have been in line with NTSB rules for communicating during an accident investigation,” UPS says. “Those rules limit discussions to facts released by the investigation. Throughout the investigation, we have limited our discussions to those facts.”