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Multiple pilot errors noted in fatal UPS crash

Sept. 10, 2014, Washington, D.C. - A fatal UPS cargo plane crash during a landing attempt last year was caused by pilots who made a series of errors and should have aborted the landing, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.


September 10, 2014
By The Associated Press

The panel also said the pilots may have been suffering from fatigue,
but said more stringent federal rules governing pilot hours wouldn't
have prevented the accident. Such tightened rules are being sought by
the pilots' union and are being resisted by UPS.

 

The primary cause of the pre-dawn
accident on Aug. 14, 2013, was the pilots' decision to continue a
landing attempt at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport in Alabama after
they realized the plane wasn't lined up correctly — and their failure to
monitor the plane's altitude — the board said.

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The twin-engine Airbus A300 descended too
rapidly, clipping the tops of trees and crashing into a hillside just
shy of the shorter of the airport's two runways.

 

Capt. Cerea Beal, 57, of Matthews, North
Carolina, and First Officer Shanda Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tennessee,
were killed. Both pilots had expressed concern about fatigue and work
schedules, according to the plane's cockpit voice recorder, Fanning's
text messages the previous day and Beal's recent conversations with
other pilots.

 

The board agreed that both
pilots had prior opportunity for adequate rest, but were likely
fatigued because the flight from Louisville, Kentucky, took place during
early morning hours when people naturally crave sleep even if they are
well-rested. Also, Fanning was likely suffering from acute sleep
deprivation because she didn't take full advantage of her rest
opportunities, the board said.

 

The Independent Pilots Association, which
represents UPS' 2,600 pilots, had previously cited the crash as
evidence that more stringent federal rules that govern the work
schedules of passenger airline pilots should be extended to cargo pilots
as well. UPS has opposed the extending the rules, which went into
effect in January.

 

The Federal Aviation Administration has
estimated that extending the rules to cargo pilots, who do much of their
flying at night, would cost carriers $550 million over 12 years.

 

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said the
board agrees that the more stringent rules should be extended to cargo
pilots, but that this was not the accident to make that case.

 

"The board isn't going to sacrifice our
credibility to make that point," he said. But Sumwalt, a former airline
pilot, also criticized UPS' safety culture, pointing to a union survey
of its members in which 88 per cent of pilots said they feared that
telling the company they weren't prepared to fly because of fatigue
would invite adverse scrutiny. He also said the company failed to update
critical cockpit software that might have warned pilots in sufficient
time that they were too close to the ground.

 

"Go back and fix the
culture," Sumwalt told UPS officials. "Yes, the pilots flew the airplane
into the ground, there is no question about that," but "you have some
problems. Get them cleaned up."

UPS said in a statement that it disagrees
with the board's conclusion that the pilots were suffering "fatigue
related to night flying when the (captain) had not flown in 10 days and
the first officer was off eight of the previous 10 days. We believe
these facts – and others – don't support such a finding."

 

The company also said it will update the software, but noted that the program met federal regulations.

 

"We know what we heard from pilots on the
cockpit voice recorder and survey" about fatigue, said Brian Gaudet, a
spokesman for the pilots union. "What it all really reveals is what
Sumwalt said — everything UPS does is about efficiency. Their safety
culture is flawed."

 

One of the key mistakes made by the first
officer, the board said, was incorrectly programming the plane's flight
management computer. As a result, the autopilot was unable to put the
plane on the correct landing path. When the captain realized the
autopilot couldn't be relied upon, he chose to continue the landing,
using visual cues to line up the plane instead of aborting the attempt.

 

The pilots also didn't call out important altitude levels as the aircraft descended, according to the board.

 

The airport's main runway, which is
12,000 feet long, was closed for repairs. The UPS pilots were trying to
land on the airport's second runway, which is 7,000 feet long and has
hills at either end.

The short runway also lacks complete guidance
equipment, making landings there trickier.

 

UPS has since told its pilots not conduct
nighttime landings on the runway without the full use of cockpit
navigation aids. Southwest Airlines has barred its pilots from landing
on the shorter runway at all based on the UPS accident, and ExpressJet,
one of the nation's largest regional airlines, has urged its pilots to
avoid landing on the runway in favour of the main runway whenever
possible. An ExpressJet analysis of landings by its own planes on the
shorter runway concluded that they come "dangerously close" to nearby
hills if they're only a few feet below their target altitude.