The Federal Aviation Administration will revisit a decision to exempt cargo airlines from new rules to prevent pilot fatigue, saying it made "errors" in cost calculations used to justify the exemption.
In a motion filed late Thursday, Justice Department attorneys representing the agency asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to put a pilots' union lawsuit on hold so that the exemption for cargo airlines could be re-examined.
The FAA issued an overhaul of airline pilot-scheduling rules in December, but the new rules applied only to passenger airlines. FAA officials said at the time that imposing new rules on cargo airlines would have been too costly to the industry _ $214 million over a decade.
The Independent Pilots Association, the UPS pilots' union, sued, saying it could find no justification for the cost estimate that was the basis for granting the exemption.
In its motion, the department said, "These errors are of sufficient amount that the FAA believes that it is prudent to review the portion of its cost-benefit analysis related to all-cargo operations and allow interested parties an opportunity to comment on that analysis."
FAA will issue a new evaluation of the costs "as expeditiously as possible" that "will fully disclose the extent and nature of the errors" in its initial cost-benefit analysis, the motion said.
It's likely the new cost estimate will actually be greater, not less, than $214 million because some costs were left out of the original estimate, an FAA official told The Associated Press. The official, who wasn't authorized to comment publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity.
A statement released Friday by the agency said the errors were inadvertent, and an outside group will be asked to review the cargo analysis before it is reissued for public comment.
Lee Collins, a lobbyist for the Coalition for Airline Pilot Associations, a trade association that represents the UPS union, said in an interview that the association asked the FAA and the White House Office of Management and Budget for the data and methodology for the cost estimate but has been unable to obtain the information. The union requested the same information in its lawsuit.
"A flawed cost-benefit formula, issued at the last minute, without opportunity for public comment and examination, was at the core of our legal objections to the FAA's exclusion of cargo pilots from new science-based pilot rest rules," William Trent, an attorney for the union, said in a statement.
The trade association has also appealed to Rep. Chip Cravaak, R-Minn., a former cargo pilot, for help getting the information, Collins said. Cravaak has introduced a bill to extend the fatigue rule protections to cargo pilots.
Cargo airlines, including United Parcel Service, had lobbied strongly for different rules from passenger airlines. The new scheduling rules, which go into effect in 2014, reduce the number of hours pilots can fly overnight. That would have had a greater impact on cargo airlines, which do much of their flying overnight.
Stephen Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, said he was "dumbfounded" by the Justice Department's request.
"I have no clue what those errors are or what they are really up to," Alterman said. He said the cost estimate did not come from the cargo industry.
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