By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board told United Parcel Service Inc and its pilots union on Monday that they can no longer take part in the investigation of a 2013 crash that killed two UPS pilots.
The agency said in a statement that the Independent Pilots Association and UPS Airlines had violated a participation agreement by publicly commenting on the investigation into the Birmingham, Alabama, crash before the board's public meeting on its cause.
The decision bars UPS and the union from the investigation into the crash of an A300-600 cargo plane as it tried to land in August 2013. Pilot Cerea Beal Jr. and first officer Shanda Fanning were killed.
The union issued a statement on Aug. 13 providing an analysis of the crash, and UPS responded with its own analysis. The NTSB has sole responsibility for releasing investigation-related information while a probe is under way.
"It doesn't matter who started it. Neither action is acceptable," acting Chairman Christopher Hart said in the statement.
The NTSB may grant "party status" to organizations that can provide technical help in an investigation.
UPS Airlines spokesman Mike Mangeot said the company was surprised by the NTSB move.
"We believe we have been unfairly reprimanded for attempting to set the facts straight and defending our brand," he said in an email.
Spokesman Brian Gaudet said the union would decline to comment until the NTSB released its final report.
An NTSB report in February said that updated software would have given the UPS pilots an earlier warning that they were too low before they crashed.
The report said the crew did not get a "too low terrain" warning until one second after the first sound of impact with trees during the plane's descent.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Jim Loney and Andre Grenon)