The following editorial was written by the Scripps Howard News Service:
The federal government has been trying to keep tired transportation operators from killing themselves and others for more than a century, starting with "hours of service" limits along railroads in 1907 and most recently updating the rules governing airline pilots' hours in flight.
Always, there has been tension between the regulators and the companies and workers who must operate under the rules.
Those tensions flared in late December after the Federal Aviation Administration set new limits on flying time for passenger airline pilots but exempted pilots of cargo planes. The exemption came after the industry argued that the changes would be too costly compared to any benefits to safety, although federal officials expressed hope that cargo carriers would follow the new rules voluntarily.
That didn't fly with the Independent Pilots Association, the union that represents United Parcel Service pilots. They sued to be included, noting that, even more so than passenger planes, cargo carriers face two of the conditions cited by the FAA as increasing the risk for fatigue: flying at night and across multiple time zones.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been urging standardized limits, more on less, on time spent at the controls of all modes of transportation for more than 20 years. Lately, the board has also urged that regulators take into account the new scientific understanding of sleep cycles — along with differences in equipment and operating environments — in setting rules that aim to give drivers and pilots as close to the ideal of 7 1/2 hours of solid sleep as possible.
As the rules emerge, there continue to be evolving, but still different, standards for the hours not only of cargo and passenger pilots, but also freight and passenger rail operators, truck and bus drivers and assorted types of maritime crewmen.
Certainly, it's not reasonable to expect the same rules for sleep-aboard sailors and airline pilots who shuttle home or to hotel rooms after each flight.
But it's hard to see why the margin of sleep safety should be much different for pilots flying the same planes in the same airspace just because some carry people and others packages. The same holds true for locomotive engineers, interstate drivers and helmsmen. All present a deadly risk if they nod off on the job.