The National Transportation Safety Board has revoked the party status of the Independent Pilots Association (IPA) and UPS Airlines in the investigation of UPS Flight 1354, an A300-600 cargo flight which crashed on approach to Birmingham, Alabama, last August.
The Agency indicates that IPA and UPS “violated the terms of the party agreement” for the investigation when they “took actions prejudicial to the investigation by publicly commenting on and providing their own analysis of the investigation, beore the NTSB’s public meeting to decide the probable cause of the accident.”
The IPA issued a press release on August 13, calling for the FAA to revise FAR Part 117, the mandatory Flightcrew Member Duty and Rest Requirements, which cover commercial flight operations, but from which cargo pilots have expressly been excluded, as follows:
The FAA proposed a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) as an alternative regulatory approach to provide a means of monitoring and mitigating fatigue. Under an FRMS, a certificate holder develops processes that manage and mitigate fatigue and meet an equivalent level of safety. The FAA is adopting that proposal largely as proposed. The FAA has also decided to extend the voluntary FRMS program to all-cargo operations, which are not required to operate under part 117. Under the FRMS provisions that this rule adds to subparts Q, R, and S of part 121, an all-cargo operator that does not wish to operate under part 117 can nevertheless utilize an FRMS as long as it has the pertinent FAA approval.
In the Press Release, the IPA Union claims that the crash of UPS Flight 1354 was directly attributable to a pilot rest issue.
“We had no choice but to lead this fight,” said Travis. “The crash of UPS Flight 1354 has intensified our efforts. Tragically, Capt. Beal said to our Scheduling Committee Chairman just before the fatal flight, ‘these schedules over the past several years are killing me.’ We owe it to Cerea and Shanda, their families and every pilot, whether flying passengers or packages, to end this dangerous exclusion. As we mark this difficult anniversary, I call on the FAA to end the cargo carve-out and apply one level of safety to all commercial aviation.”
The Union also linked out to a Cockpit Voice Recorder Report (CVR) under the NTSB Docket DCA13MA133, giving out details on the progress of the investigation thus far for Flight 1354. In the CVR, the pilot and co-pilot of Flight 1354 have a prolonged discussion over the FAA’s Part 117 Rule, which is chilling in the context of what later happened to both pilots (excerpts from the NTSB’s CVR Transcript, starting at 03:41:53, shortly after takeoff):
“we have two extra hours today in Birmingham.”
“Rockford is only fourteen hours and * minutes rest. so you figure a thirty minute ride to-for hotel….”
“I know by the time you…”
“…by the time you go to sleep you are down to about twelve. (wow).”
“this is where ah the passenger side you know the new rules they’re gonna make out.”
“they’re gonna make out. yeah. we need that too.”
“I mean I [stammer††] don’t get that. you know it should be one level of safety for everybody.”
†† As used in this report, stammer is used to describe an utterance with many quick hesitations.
“it makes no sense at all. no it doesn’t at all.
I know. I know.”
“which means that you know * real pilot. you know.”
“and to be honest. [stammer] it should be across the board. to be honest in my opinion whether you are flying passengers or cargo or you know box of chocolates at night. if you’re flying this time of day…”
“…the you know [stammer] * fatigue is definitely…***.
“I was out and I slept today. I slept in Rockford. I slept good.”
“and I was out in that sleep room and when my alarm went off I mean I’m thinking’ I’m so tired…”
“…and I slept today.”
“I you know and we just are goin’ to Birmingham. what if I was goin’ to Burbank?”
“and these people—”
“really God I know these people have no clue. I know. and I just don’t understand what they—”
“and they you know they talk about cost. well on the passenger side it just costs just as much. the same thing. you know I mean give me a break. (and these companies are the ones that are really making the money). they got a lot nerve.”
“making the money.”
“I know (I).”
“yeah they do that [stammering] * says [stammering] a lot about what they how they think about you.”
According to the NTSB, UPS responded by “posting comments on a website responding to the IPA press release in which it also provided its own analysis.” (Flight Chic was unable to find these comments by UPS).
In the statement issued today by the NTSB, Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart, himself a pilot, stated:
“NTSB investigations depend heavily upon technical input from the accident parties. If one party disseminates information about the accident, it may reflect that party’s bias. This puts the other parties at a disadvantage and makes them less willing to engage in the process, which can undercut the entire investigation.”
It’s important to understand that the document referenced by IPA is part of the public record, but according to the NTSB’s announcement, the fault with these statements lie in IPA and UPS of interpreting and drawing conclusions from information which forms part of an ongoing investigation. It’s a procedural objection, as is revoking the Union’s and Company’s party status also procedural.
As the NTSB explains:
For more than 40 years, the NTSB has had the sole responsibility for disseminating aviation accident investigation-related information from the time of the accident’s occurrence all the way through to the end of its investigation. This practice was put in place in order to prevent any party member from unfairly influencing the public perception of the investigative findings.
The NTSB may grant “party status” to those organizations that are able to provide technical assistance in an investigation. As a condition to being granted this status, parties sign an agreement that explicitly prohibits them from releasing investigative information to the media or to comment or analyze investigative findings without prior consultation with the NTSB. Once the investigation is completed, all such restrictions are lifted.
Under the terms of these agreements, IPA should have refrained from using the transcript from the investigation to reinforce its arguments against Part 117, and UPS should have refrained from replying to the statement by IPA.
“It doesn’t matter who started it,” said Hart. “Neither action is acceptable.
Excluding cargo pilots from the protections afforded by the rest rule is a contentious matter. When considered in the context that commercial airline operations, required to adhere to the FAA Part 117 rule, are themselves competing for cargo shipments, the scope of the rule becomes even more muddied.
Should the rules governing aviation safety be any less stringent because a plane carries only crew and cargo, instead of crew and passengers?
From a public perspective, while UPS1354 crashed in an open field, near Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on approach at 04:47 local time. Cargo aircraft take off and land in more heavily populated areas every day.
From a human perspective, the pilot and co-pilot were both killed.
Speaking to the IATA Cabin Operations Safety Conference, in Madrid, which Flight Chic attended, Hart told attendees:
“One life lost is one life too many.”
Featured Image: Nose and forward section of UPS 1354, via NTSB, Public Domain