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Pilots reported fatigue, erred in UPS jet crash

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 20, 2014 at 4:36 pm •  Published: February 20, 2014
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"I fell asleep on every damn leg last nite," she wrote. "Bed by 645 ish, now #8 up, slept like 4 # hrs.... Van isnt till 8 tonite so hoping i will nap again this afternoon," she texted, referring to a van that was schedule to pick up the flight crew at their hotel and take them to the airport.

The pilots reported to work about at the airport in Rockford, Ill., just before 9 p.m. CDT on Aug. 13. From there, they flew to Peoria and then to Louisville, Ky. They were finishing their third and last scheduled leg when the plane slammed into the hillside just before 5 a.m. on Aug. 14.

UPS officials cautioned against concluding the pilots were fatigued, and therefore prone to error.

"Crew rest is a complex concept. And for some, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that a pilot who flies at night must be tired," the company said in a statement. "It's also easy to presume that if they are tired, it's induced by their assigned work schedule. Neither is necessarily accurate."

UPS officials noted that documents released by the safety board indicate Beal's and Fanning's schedules up until the crash would have met federal requirements for passenger airline pilots. However, the pilots were scheduled for another night of flying after Birmingham, which would have violated limits on consecutive night shifts for passenger airline pilots, union officials said.

The safety board has long expressed concern about operator fatigue, saying the problem shows up repeatedly in accidents across all modes of transportation — planes, trains, cars, trucks and ships. Fatigue can erode judgment, slow response times and lead to errors much as alcohol can.

Two years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules aimed at ensuring airline pilots have sufficient rest. FAA officials had proposed including cargo airlines in draft regulations, but exempted them when final regulations were released, citing cost. Cargo carriers, who do much of their flying at night, strongly opposed the regulations. FAA officials estimated the regulations would cost $550 million over 12 years if applied to cargo airlines; the Independent Pilots Association, which represents UPS pilots, estimated the cost at $320 million.

Night shift workers frequently suffer fatigue, especially between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. when the human body's circadian rhythms — physical and behavioral changes that respond to light and darkness — are telling the brain to sleep, according to sleep experts.

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