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UPS, pilots union kicked out of plane crash investigation

By Adina Solomon on August 26, 2014

After comments published on Air Cargo World’s website, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ejected the Independent Pilots Association (IPA) and UPS Airlines from its ongoing investigation of UPS Flight 1354.

Flight 1354 crashed on approach to Birmingham, Ala., in August 2013.

The NTSB took the action Monday after it found that IPA, the union representing UPS pilots, and UPS violated the terms of the party agreement that each had signed at the start of the investigation.

In letters to each organization, the NTSB wrote that IPA and UPS took actions “prejudicial to the investigation” by publicly providing their own analysis of the investigation prior to the NTSB’s public meeting to determine the probable cause of the accident.

“NTSB investigations depend heavily upon technical input from the accident parties,” Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart said. “If one party disseminates information about the accident, it may reflect that party's bias. This puts the other parties at a disadvantage and makes them less willing to engage in the process, which can undercut the entire investigation.”

Without first consulting with the NTSB, the IPA issued a press release on Aug. 13 providing its own analysis of the accident, which NTSB said is prohibited in the party agreement. In the press release published by Air Cargo World on its website, the IPA called for an end to the exemption of all-cargo airline operators from FAR Part 117, the new pilot rest and operating rules enacted by Congress.

UPS, also without first consulting with the NTSB, posted comments on Air Cargo World responding to the IPA press release, in which NTSB said it provided its own analysis.

“Flight 1354 was a tragedy, and UPS continues to mourn the loss of our crewmembers, Capt. Cerea Beal and First Officer Shanda Fanning. We believe the anniversary is a time for reflection about the accident and the lives of our crewmembers,” UPS Airlines spokesperson Mike Mangeot wrote in the comments section. “Despite union rhetoric, the facts of Flight 1354 do not support changing rest rules for cargo crewmembers. A cargo pilot is not a passenger pilot. Just because all pilots sit in cockpits does not mean they experience the same conditions.”

The NTSB has the responsibility for disseminating aviation accident investigation-related information from the time of the accident’s occurrence all the way through to the end of its investigation.

The NTSB may grant “party status” to organizations that are able to provide technical assistance in an investigation. As a condition to being granted this status, as UPS Airlines and IPA were, parties sign an agreement that prohibits them from releasing investigative information to the media or to comment on or analyze investigative findings without prior consultation with the NTSB.

“UPS was surprised and disappointed to learn of the NTSB’s decision to remove our party status from the Flight 1354 investigation. We are a company that takes regulatory compliance very seriously, which is why we’re troubled by this decision,” Mangeot says in a statement from UPS Airlines. “We maintain that our actions have been in line with NTSB rules for communicating during an accident investigation. Those rules limit discussions to facts released by the investigation. Throughout the investigation, we have limited our discussions to those facts, and that’s what we did this time, too.”

Mangeot says the NTSB’s position that it should have been consulted “represents a change in the interpretation of those rules.” UPS Airlines has asked the NTSB to reconsider its decision. As of Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET, UPS Airlines had not received a response, Mangeot says.

“It is worth noting that the NTSB does not take issue with UPS’s factual statement. Their concern is that we did not notify them,” he says. “We believe we have been unfairly reprimanded for attempting to set the facts straight and defending our brand.”

IPA declined to comment about the NTSB’s decision to Air Cargo World.

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