The Independent Pilots Association has found that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration overstated the costs associated with applying its new pilot-fatigue rules to cargo carriers by at least $175 million.
The FAA made a decision to not include cargo pilots in its pilot-fatigue ruling due to a perceived extreme cost. Not wanting to rely on the FAA’s cost benefit analysis, the IPA, which is the union for UPS pilots, hired a cost analysis expert who found the FAA’s benefit-cost calculation was way off base.
The group tasked David M. Berkey with going through the decision, and he found the FAA routinely overstated the costs and understated the benefits of including cargo pilots in its fatigue ruling.
The flight crew member duty rule sets a 10-hour minimum rest period for pilots, among other regulations. This is a two-hour increase over previous rest guidelines. The FAA has also imposed that pilots have more consecutive time off per week and they must perform a fit-for-duty check before they get into a cockpit. Cargo pilots were excluded from the new rules because implementing the changes for them would be too costly. The FAA did, however, encourage cargo carriers to opt into the new rule voluntarily.
According to the FAA, the new rules would cost the aviation industry $297 million, but would return benefits in the range of $247 million to $470 million.
In a conference call earlier this week, Capt. Robert Travis, the IPA's president, laid out Berkey’s findings. He noted in addition to overstating the costs of such a rule, the FAA also “substantially deviated from professional standards and norms associated with conducting benefit/cost studies in the aviation industry.
“Moreover, the FAA ignored or did not quantify a long list of potential benefits of applying the proposed rule to cargo operations, including benefits that FAA itself acknowledged were real and potentially very large,” he said during the call.
Travis outlined these benefits as cargo accidents avoided, both on the ground and in the air, and a benefit derived from the general ability of non-fatigued pilots to deal with in-flight emergencies.
In its ruling, the FAA found that including cargo pilots in the rule would only save between $5 million to $31 million, a number based on one cargo accident over 10 years. The union pointed out UPS insures itself for $1.5 billion for a single crash.
Hoping that only a single cargo accident occurs in the next 10 years is also highly unrealistic, Travis said. The IPA’s analysis also found the FAA used the cost of a Boeing 727 in its analysis, simply because that is the type of plane that crashed last time.
“The 727 will be virtually out of the fleet by the 2014-2023 benefit analysis period,” Travis said.
The consistent underestimates show the FAA’s analysis is completely off base, according to the IPA.
“The FAA’s approach lacks cost realism and common sense,” Travis said. “It is akin to saying that if a town had one drunk driving accident in the past decade, there is no need to crack down on drunk driving, because you will only have one drunk driving accident in the next decade, and, moreover, it will be in the same type of car, whose Blue Book value will be next to nothing, and, since no other cars or pedestrians were hurt in the last accident, no one outside the car will be hurt the next time either.”
The IPA has already filed a lawsuit against the FAA, because when Congress told the organization to hammer out a new pilot-fatigue law, FAA officials were never told to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. When pressed, the FAA has admitted errors in the way it calculated the costs of imposing the rule on cargo carriers, but said these errors didn’t significantly impact its findings.
Congress has gotten in on the act as well, introducing an amendment that would add all-cargo carriers to the FAA’s pilot flight duty guidelines. New York congressmen Michael Grimm and Tim Bishop introduced the bill, dubbed the Safe Skies Act of 2013, on Jan. 4. The bill was quickly referred to a committee, but congressional watcher Govtrack.us has pegged the chances of further progress at 8 percent, giving the bill a 2-percent chance of being enacted. - Jon Ross