Air-Freight Operators, A "Culture Of Risk"?

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Unsafe practices are common in cargo operations, according to a three-part investigative series that ran in The Miami Herald this week. Shorter versions of the story were widely reprinted in newspapers around the country. The Herald says that on average, one pilot per month dies in a freight-hauling accident, making it the deadliest form of commercial flying in the U.S., and the FAA is lax in overseeing the operators. "Experts say the very profile of the industry -- older planes, less-experienced pilots, longer hours, overnight flying, dangerous weather -- adds safety hurdles," says the Herald. Further, "companies ... sometimes blatantly skirt safety rules -- and get away with it." FAA Administrator Marion Blakey declined to be interviewed for the story. "While a formal study ... has not been done, the FAA is aware of the higher accident rate in this type of operation," the FAA wrote in reply to written questions from the newspaper. According to the story, "cargo pilots are dying in large numbers. ... cargo planes are falling from the sky ... [cargo pilots] work in a pressure-cooker environment to deliver goods on time, often flying in icy, hazardous weather." Often NTSB reports blame the pilots, the story says, while downplaying other factors such as sub-par operating practices and equipment malfunctions.