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​Investigation: Why are cargo pilots excluded from new rest rules?

Recent plane crashes caused by weary pilots led to rules that limit cockpit hours
Recent plane crashes caused by weary pilots l... 03:59

WASHINGTON -- Scott Maurer lost his only daughter Lorin when Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed into a Buffalo home in 2009, killing 50 people. After pilot fatigue was cited as one of the causes, Maurer and other victims' families petitioned Congress to establish safe flight hours for pilots.

CBS News

"FAA rules and regulations, unfortunately, are typically written in blood and 3407 was no different," said Maurer.

In 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed new mandatory rest rules for all commercial pilots. But, suddenly, in 2011 cargo pilots were excluded.

Under the new rules, passenger pilots can only work nine hours if any of their flights are at night. But cargo pilots can work 16 hours.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Bob Travis, president of the Independent Pilots Association union and a pilot for United Parcel Service. "It's just dumb is what it is. And if we don't reverse this two-tier level of safety, tragedy is potentially looming."

Since 1990, there have been 14 U.S. cargo plane crashes involving fatigue. A year and a half ago, UPS Airlines Flight 1354 crashed in Birmingham, Alabama. Both pilots were killed and the plane narrowly missed a neighborhood. Flight 1354's captain Cerea Beal told a colleague that his flight schedule was killing him.

Wreckage from the 2013 crash site of UPS Airlines Flight 1354 in Birmingham, Alabama CBS News

But Steve Alterman, the president of the Cargo Airline Association -- which represents companies like UPS, FedEx and DHL -- doesn't think Beal's words are enough to change the rules in the industry.

Steve Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association CBS News

"Absolutely not," said Alterman. "Because that's just union talk and that's just conversation and union talk."

Alterman argues the fatigue cited in the crash wasn't because of scheduling. He says it's up to pilots to get enough rest in their off-time.

"Fatigue is an issue, I've never said it wasn't an issue," said Alterman. "What I've said is that the current rules are adequate to manage that fatigue."

CBS News obtained documents showing the decision to exclude cargo pilots from the new rest rules came from a White House budget agency called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). OIRA held meetings, including one with the Cargo Airline Association. The cargo carriers warned the new rule would cost 7,000 jobs and nearly $14 billion.

A report by the CAA details the "negative economic impact" of new rest rules for cargo pilots CBS News

"We do not want our pilots to fly fatigued," said Alterman. "That's unsafe."

During our interview I asked Alterman if he had said that the rest rules were not good for business.

"No, I never said that," Alterman answered. "What we said is, we were asked what the cost would be."

Capt. Sullenberger: Pilot fatigue a worldwide... 01:25

"You can't really find anybody, except industry -- the companies that want to put profit before safety -- that are saying this makes any sense," said Travis.

Six years after losing his daughter, Scott Maurer remains an advocate for rest rules for all pilots.

"My wife and I, we lost our daughter, that's not going to change," Maurer told me. "How many more lives have to be lost before you do the right thing?"

Representatives of OIRA would not go on camera, but in a statement told CBS News that the decision was part of an inter-agency process. That statement did not go into detail about who was involved in that process. UPS' pilots union is suing the FAA to change the rules.

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