WASHINGTON — United Parcel Service pilots went to court Thursday hoping to make the government include them under new rules designed to ensure airline pilots aren't too sleepy to fly.
Their union, the Independent Pilots Association, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration one day after the new rules for passenger airline pilots were announced. Cargo carriers are exempt from the rules. The union wants the court to tell the FAA to reconsider including them, too.
The FAA has said forcing cargo carriers to reduce the number of hours their pilots can fly would be too costly when compared with the safety benefits. Imposing the rules on cargo airlines like Federal Express or UPS would have added another $214 million to the cost, FAA officials said.
"The FAA's only basis for excluding cargo rests on a cost benefit analysis," William Trent, general counsel to the pilots' association, said in a statement.
Trent said two factors that the FAA cited as exacerbating the risk of pilot fatigue — operating at night and crossing multiple time zones — are more common in cargo operations than in passenger airlines.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said he plans to invite top officials from cargo airlines to meet with him next month to urge them to voluntarily follow the new rules.
"One size has never fit all when it comes to crew rest regulations," said Norman Black, a spokesman for Atlanta-based UPS, in a statement. "UPS believes the FAA has recognized this fact and made an appropriate decision in its new rule."
Safety advocates urged the FAA for over two decades to update pilot work rules. Researchers say fatigue, much like alcohol, can impair a pilot's performance by slowing reflexes and eroding judgment.
The new passenger airline rules would limit the maximum time a pilot can be scheduled on duty to between nine and 14 hours; limit scheduled flying time to eight or nine hours; and further limit hours for pilots flying overnight.
The cargo carriers that are exempt do much of their flying overnight, when people naturally crave sleep.