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Investigators check a CV580 cargo plane crash

DEADLY EXPRESS REFORM EFFORTS

A member of Congress known for pushing aviation safety laws called for a thorough review of the U.S. air cargo industry, which is plagued by fatal crashes.

BY RONNIE GREENE
rgreene@MiamiHerald.com

One of the nation's leading voices on aviation safety is pushing for a sweeping review of the U.S. air cargo industry, saying too many pilots are dying in crashes.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., the senior Democrat on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said The Miami Herald's Deadly Express series last month raised troubling questions about a business that has become a mainstay of the U.S. economy but has never received the kind of scrutiny provided to commercial passenger aviation.

While much of U.S. aviation is safer than ever, air cargo -- a bustling industry that carries everything from canceled checks to car parts to consumer goods -- has until now received scant attention from Congress, the veteran lawmaker said.

The Miami Herald found that one cargo pilot dies nearly every month in the United States, often while flying for small companies rushing to deliver goods in old planes.

So far this year, eight have died in U.S. cargo crashes, two more than in all of last year.

''We really do need a vigorous oversight inquiry,'' said Oberstar, who has been one of Congress' most persistent supporters of aviation safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration, he said, ``still has failed to address the total spectrum of cargo service.''

The newspaper found that the pilots involved in most fatal crashes can fly up to 40 percent more hours a year than those working for large carriers and that their planes often lack the black-box devices that help determine why airplanes crash.

Oberstar has long advocated one level of safety in the skies. More than a decade ago, he held hearings focusing on aging aircraft. The result was the 1991 Aging Aircraft Safety Act, which required special inspections of older planes.

He also pressed for technological advances and improved maintenance on airplanes -- safety pushes that helped trigger more reforms.

His next goal: to boost safety in the air cargo industry.

Oberstar is reaching out to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board to provide information that could be used at cargo safety hearings.

''This Congress has not done an in-depth evaluation of . . . the laws we have enacted, nor whether the rules we have promulgated have been sufficient,'' Oberstar said. ``There is no reason to have different hours of service. There is no justification. That pilot dies the same as a pilot in a 727.''

He said any push for tighter rules could face challenges from some in the industry because improvements in aviation -- such as limiting the number of hours that pilots can fly or requiring technology like black boxes -- cost money.

''What is the cost in lives?'' he asked. ``That has to be our objective.''

Oberstar joins others in Congress who are pushing for scrutiny. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., has called for oversight hearings by the Committee on Government Reform, saying the series revealed ``a troubling pattern of systematic failures in the safety mechanisms of this important sector of our economy.''

HEARING SET

Momentum is building for a review. The House Aviation Subcommittee is likely to discuss cargo safety among other aviation issues at a Sept. 20 hearing, a forum that could be the springboard to a more detailed look at the industry.

The Miami Herald documented 69 fatal U.S. cargo crashes since 2000, with 85 deaths, often single pilots flying for little-known companies.

Last month came the 70th fatal crash, when a 27-year-old pilot died while flying cargo in Washington state in a 32-year-old Piper PA-31-350.

Last Friday came the 71st, when a small cargo plane crashed in a remote area of Vermont amid poor visibility.

The FAA said it ``would welcome any opportunity to share the facts on air cargo safety with Congress.''

The agency said it is ''developing policies and standards'' to push crash rates lower and noted that fatalities had declined last year. The Miami Herald reported that fatalities fell last year after a heavy spike in 2004. They are rising again.

FAA ROLE QUESTIONED

Year in and year out, air cargo's fatal crashes far outpace those of larger airline operations, and safety advocates across the country say the FAA pays less attention to this wing of aviation.

The FAA has not done a study of air cargo's crash rate, and its monitoring system does not fully log all fatal crashes, the newspaper found.

The FAA maintains that its rules ''provide an extremely high level of safety,'' yet records show that the agency allows troubled companies to keep flying despite histories of safety breakdowns and crashes.

One Salt Lake City, Utah, company was fined seven times in five years for a string of safety problems, yet continued to fly even as the lapses mounted and it failed to pay most fines. The FAA finally revoked its certificate -- after one of its pilots, 27, died when his plane hit a Colorado mountain last June.

In Albany, N.Y., a cargo operator had four planes not certified to fly into icing conditions, but the FAA brought enforcement action against the company only after one of its pilots died while flying one of the planes -- in icing.

''Every accident detracts from our industry,'' said Stan Bernstein, president of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association, which represents more than 50 smaller carriers and has taken part in the review. ``We're looking to upgrade the industry.''

Bernstein said one proposal would mandate a required rest period for cargo pilots. Yet the carrier group is not suggesting that the FAA require black boxes in small cargo planes, contrary to the view of some pilots and victims' families who say the devices are vital to fully determine why a crash occurred. Eight times since 2000, records show, the safety board was unable to determine the primary cause of a deadly cargo crash.

Said Rep. Oberstar: 'The argument is, `Oh, it's too expensive. I can't afford this.' Then get out of the business.''

from this link

  'Vigorous' air cargo safety review advocated

A member of Congress known for pushing aviation safety laws called for a
thorough review of the U.S. air cargo industry, which is plagued by fatal
crashes.

One of the nation's leading voices on aviation safety is pushing for a
sweeping review of the U.S. air cargo industry, saying too many pilots are
dying in crashes.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., the senior Democrat on the Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure, said The Miami Herald's Deadly Express
series last month raised troubling questions about a business that has
become a mainstay of the U.S. economy but has never received the kind of
scrutiny provided to commercial passenger aviation.

While much of U.S. aviation is safer than ever, air cargo -- a bustling
industry that carries everything from canceled checks to car parts to
consumer goods -- has until now received scant attention from Congress, the
veteran lawmaker said.

The Miami Herald found that one cargo pilot dies nearly every month in the
United States, often while flying for small companies rushing to deliver
goods in old planes.

So far this year, eight have died in U.S. cargo crashes, two more than in
all of last year.

''We really do need a vigorous oversight inquiry,'' said Oberstar, who has
been one of Congress' most persistent supporters of aviation safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration, he said, ``still has failed to address
the total spectrum of cargo service.''

The newspaper found that the pilots involved in most fatal crashes can fly
up to 40 percent more hours a year than those working for large carriers and
that their planes often lack the black-box devices that help determine why
airplanes crash.

Oberstar has long advocated one level of safety in the skies. More than a
decade ago, he held hearings focusing on aging aircraft. The result was the
1991 Aging Aircraft Safety Act, which required special inspections of older
planes.

He also pressed for technological advances and improved maintenance on
airplanes -- safety pushes that helped trigger more reforms.

His next goal: to boost safety in the air cargo industry.

Oberstar is reaching out to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety
Board to provide information that could be used at cargo safety hearings.

''This Congress has not done an in-depth evaluation of . . . the laws we
have enacted, nor whether the rules we have promulgated have been
sufficient,'' Oberstar said. ``There is no reason to have different hours of
service. There is no justification. That pilot dies the same as a pilot in a
727.''

He said any push for tighter rules could face challenges from some in the
industry because improvements in aviation -- such as limiting the number of
hours that pilots can fly or requiring technology like black boxes -- cost
money.

''What is the cost in lives?'' he asked. ``That has to be our objective.''

Oberstar joins others in Congress who are pushing for scrutiny. U.S. Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., has called for oversight hearings by the
Committee on Government Reform, saying the series revealed ``a troubling
pattern of systematic failures in the safety mechanisms of this important
sector of our economy.''

HEARING SET

Momentum is building for a review. The House Aviation Subcommittee is likely
to discuss cargo safety among other aviation issues at a Sept. 20 hearing, a
forum that could be the springboard to a more detailed look at the industry.

The Miami Herald documented 69 fatal U.S. cargo crashes since 2000, with 85
deaths, often single pilots flying for little-known companies.

Last month came the 70th fatal crash, when a 27-year-old pilot died while
flying cargo in Washington state in a 32-year-old Piper PA-31-350.

Last Friday came the 71st, when a small cargo plane crashed in a remote area
of Vermont amid poor visibility.

The FAA said it ``would welcome any opportunity to share the facts on air
cargo safety with Congress.''

The agency said it is ''developing policies and standards'' to push crash
rates lower and noted that fatalities had declined last year. The Miami
Herald reported that fatalities fell last year after a heavy spike in 2004.
They are rising again.

FAA ROLE QUESTIONED

Year in and year out, air cargo's fatal crashes far outpace those of larger
airline operations, and safety advocates across the country say the FAA pays
less attention to this wing of aviation.

The FAA has not done a study of air cargo's crash rate, and its monitoring
system does not fully log all fatal crashes, the newspaper found.

The FAA maintains that its rules ''provide an extremely high level of
safety,'' yet records show that the agency allows troubled companies to keep
flying despite histories of safety breakdowns and crashes.

One Salt Lake City, Utah, company was fined seven times in five years for a
string of safety problems, yet continued to fly even as the lapses mounted
and it failed to pay most fines. The FAA finally revoked its certificate --
after one of its pilots, 27, died when his plane hit a Colorado mountain
last June.

In Albany, N.Y., a cargo operator had four planes not certified to fly into
icing conditions, but the FAA brought enforcement action against the company
only after one of its pilots died while flying one of the planes -- in
icing.

''Every accident detracts from our industry,'' said Stan Bernstein,
president of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association, which represents
more than 50 smaller carriers and has taken part in the review. ``We're
looking to upgrade the industry.''

Bernstein said one proposal would mandate a required rest period for cargo
pilots. Yet the carrier group is not suggesting that the FAA require black
boxes in small cargo planes, contrary to the view of some pilots and
victims' families who say the devices are vital to fully determine why a
crash occurred. Eight times since 2000, records show, the safety board was
unable to determine the primary cause of a deadly cargo crash.

Said Rep. Oberstar: 'The argument is, `Oh, it's too expensive. I can't
afford this.' Then get out of the business.''

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