On August 14, 2013, a UPS cargo plane bound for Birmingham Alabama from Louisville Kentucky crashed in the early morning hours just short of the airport runway, tragically killing both pilots on-board. Flight 1354, an Airbus A300 cargo plane crashed shortly before 6am Eastern time near a parallel access road in the immediate airport area, about a half mile from the runway.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States has now issued its final report regarding the accident which concluded that a series of pilot errors and deviations from company safety rules led to the accident. The NTSB indicated that UPS flight 1354:
“crashed because the crew continued an unstabilized approach into Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham Ala.. In addition, the crew failed to monitor the altitude and inadvertently descended below the minimum descent altitude when the runway was not in sight.”
The NTSB further reported that flight crew fatigue also contributed to the accident. The detailed accident investigation report indicated:
“For the captain, that fatigue due to circadian factors may have been present at the time of the accident.”
The report further indicates:
“Review of the first-officer’s use of her off-duty time indicated that she was experiencing fatigue, primarily due to improper off-duty management time. Even though the first officer was aware she was very tired, she did not call in and report that she was fatigued , contrary to the UPS fatigue policy.”
The detailed report further noted that the flight dispatcher should have alerted the flight crew to limited options on arrival in that a single runway was only available. Doing so would have helped the flight crew prepare for the approach and evaluate options.
Thus it would appear that a combination of cascading factors apparently led to this accident.
In an October 2013 posting, Supply Chain Matters called reader attention to an Opinion column published in the Wall Street Journal titled “A Tired Pilot Is a Tired Pilot, Regardless of the Plane”. It was jointly penned by the now famous Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, who piloted a US Airways A350 aircraft to successfully land in New York’s Hudson River saving the lives of passengers, and Jim Hall, former chairmen of the NTSB. In this editorial, the authors brought to light the current dangers imposed by fatigued pilots. While the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented long-overdue fatigue standards for pilots for the passenger airlines, these requirements did not apply to pilots of cargo planes. The premise of these distinguished authors was that by excluding cargo pilots, who often fly continuous long inter-continental routes, the mission for making safety the first priority for aviation is compromised. Their most powerful argument: “Whether there are packages or people behind the cockpit door, pilot fatigue exists just the same. And it threatens the lives of pilots and bystanders on the ground alike.”
In its September accident report, the NTSB made a series of recommendations concerning the FAA, UPS and the Independent Pilots Association including review of fatigue policy and methods including nonpunitive mechanisms to identify and effectively address reported fatigue issues.
It would seem that the October WSJ Opinion column regarding pilot fatigue has even more meaning for air cargo crews.