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‘Miracle on Hudson’ Pilot Pushes More Rest for Cargo Crews

Boxer threatens to stall FAA bill without a vote on standards for cargo pilots

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, a former pilot celebrated for landing a disabled US Airways jet on the Hudson River, speaks with Sen. Barbara Boxer.  ( Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, a former pilot celebrated for landing a disabled US Airways jet on the Hudson River, speaks with Sen. Barbara Boxer.  ( Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Flanked by the pilot who successfully landed a commercial airliner on the Hudson River, Sen. Barbara Boxer threatened Tuesday to stall a pending reauthorization of aviation policy over rest-time requirements for cargo pilots.  

“We just need a vote on this, and you know if people want to come down in the well and vote the wrong way on safety, then they have shown themselves to be more concerned with the special economic interests, frankly, than the lives of the people that are being put at risk,” Boxer said. “I’m going to use every tool at my disposal to take to the floor, and I hope others will join me.”  

Boxer, a California Democrat, has filed her legislation as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization that’s on the Senate floor.  

“Let me be very direct: Fatigue is a killer,” said Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, whose successful 2009 water landing of a disabled US Airways jetliner in New York was dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.” “It’s a ruthless indiscriminate killer that our industry and our regulators have allowed to continue killing for way too long.” Speaking on the floor shortly before the news conference, Boxer highlighted a conversation between UPS pilots about rest periods shortly before a deadly 2013 crash in Alabama.  

“Since 1990, there have been 14 U.S. cargo plane crashes involving fatigue, including a UPS crash in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed two crew members. The (National Transportation Safety Board) cited pilot fatigue as a factor,” she said. “Let’s listen to the pilot conversation which was retrieved after the plane crash. Let’s hear what those pilots who were exhausted said to one another. And then if the Senate doesn’t want to have a vote on this, I’m going to stand on my feet until we do.”  

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., joined Boxer at the news conference to discuss the amendment, which is designed to require the FAA to apply standards for passenger pilots to those of planes carrying cargo.  

Chief pilots for large cargo airlines, including FedEx and UPS, sent a letter on Monday to Senate leadership and the leaders of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to oppose the amendment.  

“Put simply, measures used to prevent fatigue must be different for passenger carriers than they are for cargo carriers because our work schedules are different,” the chief pilots wrote. “We fly fewer legs, have longer layovers, and have better rest opportunities on our trips, including while technically ‘on duty’ waiting for our nightly sorts to occur.”  

Sullenberger rebutted that argument by pointing out that cargo pilots often have longer flights overnight, when the human body is more likely to be tired.  

Among the other attendees at the news conference were pilots who fly for UPS based out of the shipping carrier’s hub at Standiford Field in Louisville, Ky., the home airport of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

“We have met with every member of the Kentucky delegation in both the House and the Senate a number of times, the majority leader a number of times,” said Lee Collins, a Louisville native who is the Independent Pilots Association’s chairman of government affairs. “They’re aware of our issue, they’re aware of our position.”  

The Commerce Committee and Senate leadership have been working to process amendments to the FAA bill.  

“Today, I would ask rhetorically to Sen. McConnell and the other leaders of this Senate: give us a vote, what are you afraid of? If you want to vote it down, you can do that,” Boxer said. “You’ll be judged. Not only on this vote, but what happens in future years, and if you don’t want to be judged don’t be a senator.”  

Contact Lesniewski at and follow him on Twitter at @nielslesniewski.

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