The Federal Aviation Administration exempted cargo pilots from the tougher limitations it placed on work rules for airline pilots on Wednesday, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he would ask cargo airlines to adopt the rules voluntarily.
The decision prompted a strong backlash from the union representing UPS pilots, who said it "creates an unnecessary threat to public safety."
Under what the FAA called a "landmark" safety initiative, the agency said it would require that pilots have 10 hours off before flying, including eight hours of uninterrupted sleep during the 10-hour break. The revision, the first change to the rules to limited fatigue since 1985, will take effect in two years.
Cargo airlines can opt-in to the rule, but LaHood said in the announcement that it was "tough to implement for cargo because of the cost-benefit" impact.
Under the current rules, pilots aren’t required to rest for a set time before flying. They are required, however, to take a 24-hour break every seven days of work.
The rules are expected to cost passenger airlines $297 million over the next 10 years, but the carriers will save between $247 million and $470 million in reduced accidents and lower health care costs, the FAA said. The agency said the new rule won't require airlines to hire more pilots.
"Giving air cargo carriers the choice to 'opt-in' makes as much sense as allowing truckers to 'opt-out' of drunk driving law,” said Robert Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association. Travis, whose union represents UPS, urged the parcel giant to adopt the new safety rules.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., stressed pilots’ personal responsibility for rest and reporting fit for duty. “The government cannot put a chocolate on every one of their pillows and tuck them in at night,” Mica said.