BARBARA BOXER ON CARGO PILOT FATIGUE
APRIL 14, 2016
The Senate continued work on H.R.636, the legislative vehicle for the long-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill:
Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, just a little while ago there was an overwhelming vote to proceed with the FAA bill, the Federal Aviation Administration bill, a very important bill. I know how hard the managers have worked on it--the chairman, the ranking member--and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I voted no. Only four of us voted no. It is rare that I do that, and I felt it was important to explain why.
We have in our Nation an amazing system of transportation, and we always have to stay on top of it to make it safer and safer. There is one thing we know without a doubt. We know it intuitively, but we also know it because the National Transportation Safety Board has told us that the No. 1 problem they face in terms of safety is fatigue.
We all know how it is. All of us, regardless of what we do for a living, know how it feels when we are utterly exhausted. We are not making the same decisions we would make. We can't carry them out the way we otherwise would. It is not rocket science. It is sleep science. We know about it because the experts have told us, and the NTSB has told us.
I will show a picture of two planes. They look exactly alike. As our kids say, one of these things is not like the other. Here is a cargo plane and passenger jet. They are the same size. They fly over the same skies. They have pilots whom we trust, whom we count on.
Today, because of special interest pressure, there is a different set of rest rules. The passenger plane pilot can only fly up to 9 hours a day because--rightly so, with all of that responsibility--that pilot has to get rest. The cargo plane pilot flies the same exact plane. That pilot can be on duty up to 16 hours a day before he or she is guaranteed adequate rest.
I know the Presiding Officer has worked very hard in recent months, and I know the energy it took to go out and do what he did. I know what it was like when I was running for the Senate so many times--thank you, California--with almost 40 million people in the State, how hard it was, how much rest was needed to be sharp so we could think. In our work if we make a mistake, it only hurts us, but when a pilot makes a mistake, it can hurt a much larger community because the cargo plane is flying
over the same homes as the passenger jet. How does it make sense to say one can be on duty up to 16 hours and the other cannot, especially when the National Transportation Safety Board has said pilot fatigue is one of the biggest problems we are facing today.
Now one might ask: Can you prove that it is a problem? Yes, I am going to prove it to you. I am going to show a graphic of a conversation that took place between two cargo pilots, the pilot and copilot. This was 2013, and they were over Alabama. These are excerpts from the grave. This is dramatic. It isn't me trying to persuade the Presiding Officer. These are the pilots.
Pilot 1: I mean I don't get that. You know it should be one level of safety for everybody.
Pilot 2: It makes no sense at all.
Pilot 1: No it doesn't at all.
Pilot 2: And to be honest, it should be across the board. To be honest in my opinion whether you are flying passengers or cargo ..... if you're flying this time of day ..... the you know fatigue is definitely. .....
Pilot 1: Yeah ..... yeah ..... yeah. .....
Pilot 2: When my alarm went off I mean I'm thinkin', I'm so tired.
Pilot 2: I know.
Look what happened to that plane within hours of that conversation. Look what happened to that plane. This shows what happened, and the pilots are dead.
After the flight recorder was released and this conversation was out, I thought for sure this administration would do the right thing. They did the wrong thing, and the Senate did the wrong thing. This isn't partisan.
We have the Obama administration, which I agree with, and today I heard some amazing news on jobs. I am just saying on this they haven't been right. There ought to be no disparity between a pilot who is flying a passenger jet and a pilot who is flying a cargo jet. The pilots are telling us this. The pilots who are telling us this are not selfish. In fact, many of them are the pilots of passenger jets such as Southwest Airlines--8,000 of them. There are 8,000 of them supporting the Boxer-Klobuchar
I can't get a vote. That is why I voted no along with three other colleagues who had their reasons. This was my reason. How do we do a bill like this and not address the No. 1 safety issue facing us? I don't get it.
If you don't believe me, fair enough, because I am not a pilot. I admit it. I just trust pilots. What is your choice? You walk on a plane, the pilot is in charge of the aircraft, and you know that pilot wants to land safely. You know that pilot wants to go home to his or her family. You know that pilot has your best interests at heart. Sometimes I am in a rush, and I get on a plane and the pilot says: You know what. We are not going to take off right now because I know there is something wrong
in one of the monitors here. It could be nothing, but I put safety first.
Everyone in the plane says: Oh, no. We are going to be late. They get out their cell phones and they call their loved ones, but we know the pilots know what they are talking about. We trust them. I trust them so much I wrote with then-Senator Smith the guns-in-the-cockpit law for pilots. The NRA thinks I am the worst of the worst, but I said I trust pilots. They should have a chance if there is a terrorist on board. I trust them. Why doesn't this administration trust them? Because of special
interests that make billions a year--billions.
It is going to cost us a tiny bit more, and it is a tiny bit more. What price would we put on our kids? There is none, for goodness' sake. If it cost a few cents more to ship a package so a pilot doesn't have to fly 16 hours, isn't that the right thing to do?
I will close with a quote from Sully Sullenberger. I think we all remember Sully. Before we show that, let's remind people who he is. We have another chart that shows him. Sully Sullenberger was the ``Hero of the Hudson.'' We remember how he landed his plane in the Hudson River, how he saved all the passengers on that plane and his crew. He is so famous now, he goes all over the world.
He came to the press conference I had with Senator Klobuchar, because she and I are working on this amendment as well as Senator Cantwell. His words were inspiring because he did not kid around. He said: ``Fatigue is a killer.'' Fatigue is a killer.
You don't have to say any more. If you know fatigue is a killer, then don't say passenger pilots can fly 9 hours but cargo pilots can fly 16. Here is what Sullenberger said when we first introduced our legislation, the Safe Skies Act: ``You wouldn't want your surgeon operating on you after only five hours sleep, or your passenger pilot flying the airplane after only five hours sleep, and you certainly wouldn't want a cargo pilot flying a large plane over your house at 3 a.m. on five hours sleep
trying to find the airport and land.''
Sully said at the press conference that had he been suffering from fatigue on that fateful day that he safely landed that plane in the waters of the Hudson River, if he was suffering from fatigue, he said he never could have done it.
So I can't get a vote on my amendment. It is so simple, even a 6-year-old can understand it. You don't have disparity when you have the same responsibility. You are traveling in the same skies, and a cargo plane can crash into a house or another plane carrying passengers.
I am so disappointed in this administration that they have not done the right thing on this. I am so disappointed in the U.S. Senate that they blocked a vote on this because the special interests don't want to charge 2 or 3 or 4 cents more on their packages.
If it is to save lives of our people, this is what I call a classic no-brainer. [Page: S2075]
So I am here today to explain my vote to my constituents--why I voted no for an FAA bill that otherwise is a good bill. But I want just to make a statement that it is ridiculous not to give me an up-or-down vote. They tied it to other issues that are poison pills: immigration issues, gun issues. Come on. This is the biggest problem--fatigue.
Can't we just get an up-or-down vote on it? I am going to try to do that at every chance I get. Now I am working on a modified amendment to see if we can get it into a package. I don't know whether we can or not. But I want to say to the pilots out there who may be listening to this debate: A lot of us here have your backs.
We are not going to forget about this issue just because the FAA bill is moving forward. We are not going to forget about you. We are not going to forget about what it means when you are fatigued. We are not going to forget about the two pilots who, through the recorder, told us before they crashed that they were exhausted. They addressed the issue of the disparity. We are going to be fighting on this.
If we can't get it done here, maybe some brave soul in the House will do it, and it will wind up in the bill. If we can't get it done legislatively, we are going to try to get it done through the FAA regular order of their rules. Where is the FAA on this? I want to say: FAA, you turned your back on too many safety measures that the NTSB, which is in charge of our safety, has recommended.
It took years to get some simple things done. So while we are working to get a modified amendment--which is not going to be the be-all and the end-all; it just moves us a little bit forward--I just want to send a message that it is rare that I vote no--one of four. It does not happen often.
I view this as a moral issue. I view this as a moral issue for those pilots that are on duty up to 16 hours straight in the middle of the night, where, as Sully Sullenberger said, their circadian rhythms are off, and they are not at the top of their game. They are flying over the airspace of the American people.
I thank the presiding officer so much for his attention. I live to fight another day, another hour, another minute on this.
I want the pilots to know and the flying public to know and everyone to know they should engage in this issue. There is no disparity between people who do the same work.
I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.