FAA accident investigators determined that a series of pilot’s errors and violations of safety procedures as the primary cause of the UPS Airbus A300-600 crash at Birmingham, AL (USA) on Aug 14th 2013. Both pilots died in the pre-dawn accident when the aircraft crashed a short distance from the Birmingham runway.
“Yes, the pilots flew the airplane into the ground, there’s no question,” said National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt, a former airline pilot.
Although the NTSB did not blame UPS on its report, Sumwalt said the cargo operator also failed to take actions that could have prevented the crash.
The NTSB mentioned a series of pilot’s errors on its report:
– The captain failed to correctly program an aircraft computer, failed to monitor the plane’s altitude, didn’t relay important information to his co-pilot, and failed to abort the landing when it became apparent the plane was in trouble.
– The captain did not have a stabilized approach — meaning the plane’s speed, direction and descent were not within established standards
– The first officer, meanwhile, failed to communicate altitudes to the pilot as the plane approached Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. In a conversation captured on the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, the co-pilot also confessed to being fatigued, evidently after failing to use her off-duty time to get appropriate rest.
Sumwalt also blamed the global cargo operator for not updating a software on a ground proximity warning system, which could have given the crew an earlier indication they were too close to the ground, he said.
“Based on the rate of descent of this particular aircraft, it would be impossible to determine whether a software upgrade would have made a difference,” Capt. Houston Mills, UPS director of airline safety, noted that the NTSB does not cite the software in its official finding.
Sumwalt said the cargo carrier also did not provide all of the available weather information to the pilots. As a result, the pilots likely expected to see the airport after descending below clouds at 1,000 feet, but didn’t clear the clouds until 350 feet.
“Everything UPS does is about efficiency. They have guys running around with clipboards and stopwatches to make sure if an airplane is a minute late, someone will be held accountable for it. But the sad thing here — this (technology) could have possibly prevented this accident.”
“If you’re interested in efficiency, I can guarantee you on August 14 of last year, those packages on the airplanes did not get delivered by 10:30 in the morning,” Sumwalt said.
UPS’ Mills acknowleged that known information about the cloud ceiling was not relayed to the pilots. But, he said, the pilots had been given a forecast that included a variable cloud ceiling, giving the pilots enough to plan and execute their approach.
The U.S. aviation industry has closely watched the UPS crash investigation largely because it highlights different FAA standards for commercial and cargo aircraft. In January of this year, the FAA required additional rest hours for commercial pilots, but it exempted cargo pilots.
Cargo pilots say rest rules should be uniform, regardless of the type of aircraft flown.
Wednesday, the NTSB concluded the pilots of Flight 1354 had been given an adequate opportunity to rest, even under the rule that applies to commercial pilots. The rule did not make a difference in this case, the board said.
UPS pilots complained of fatigue before fatal crash
Asked if the UPS culture encourages pilots to call in fatigued when they are tired, 91% “strongly disagreed” or “somewhat disagreed,” according to a survey conducted in March by the Independent Pilots Association, a union that represents UPS pilots.
“You probably have some bias in here as it was issued by a (union),” Sumwalt said. “But when you have 2,202 people responding to that, they are trying to tell you something.”
UPS spokesman Malcolm Berkley said the union was “politicizing” the investigation in an effort to change pilot work hours. UPS pilots typically work 70 hours a month — 30 in the air, Berkley said, less than the 55 hours the typical commercial pilot flies.
The safety board approved more than 20 recommendations, including one that board member Mark Rosekind called “ground-breaking” that would require warnings about flying fatigued during pre-flight briefings on overnight flights.