Focus on FAA Implementation of Safety Legislation; Fatigue Rulemaking; Potential Loophole in Pilot Qualifications

Buffalo, New York- September 30, 2010 – With members of Congress preparing to head back to their home turf for the approaching mid-term elections, the ‘Families of Continental Flight 3407’ challenged members of both Houses to not lose sight of recently-passed aviation safety legislation, and the FAA’s responsibility to implement it. Last month, President Obama signed PL 111-216 into law, putting in motion numerous reforms designed to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy of the February 12, 2009 crash of Continental Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air.

‘We are tracking forty-one action items that FAA is charged with executing between now and August 1, 2013, as a result of this legislation,’ stated Scott Maurer, of Moore, South Carolina, who lost his thirty year old daughter Lorin. ‘The agency was quick to take a bow when it issued the long-overdue pilot fatigue rulemaking proposal prior to the deadline set by Congress. Now, we expect similar efficient and timely action on the final fatigue rule as well as all of the other features of this bill designed to raise the level of safety, particularly at the regional airline level.’

While group members continue to gather more information on some of the potential loopholes in the new pilot flight and duty time proposal, they remain adamant that Congress’s deadline of August 1, 2011 for the issuance of a final rule is met, and also continue to press for further scrutiny of the practice of pilot commuting.

‘We see numerous positives in the FAA proposal, including a thirteen hour duty day, a protected nine hour rest window, and allowances made for regional pilots scheduled with a high number of takeoffs and landings in a single day,’ stated Susan Bourque, of East Aurora, New York, who lost her sister, Beverly Eckert. ‘Unfortunately, the airlines do not have a great track record when it comes to scheduling pilots with safety in mind, so we will continue to explore the rules for loopholes that can be exploited, in particular the lack of a weekly flight hour limit and the airlines’ ability to extend pilots for up to two hours in a given day. However, we do believe that this general framework makes it very possible for the FAA to deliver a final rule by next August, and in the interests of passengers everywhere, we will continue to press for all stakeholders to cooperate, with safety being the number one focus, and for these long-overdue changes to be made.’

In terms of addressing the commuting issue, the group pointed to two congressional directives related to this area, a study by the National Academy of Sciences to be completed by next July, and an FAA report on industry best practices related to commuting, due by next August.

‘We can read between the lines and see that the airlines and pilots would prefer to do nothing at all in regards to commuting,’ stated Ken Mellett of McLean, Virginia, who lost his thirty four year old son Coleman. ‘However, in our case, commuting from Seattle to Newark was a recipe for disaster, so to not address the possibility that this is happening and is potentially dangerous, is absolutely unacceptable. We do not want to see this issue keep the FAA from finishing this long-awaited final flight and duty time rule by next August, but when these findings on commuting are finally presented, we are going to fight to make sure that they are quickly and effectively incorporated into the regulatory structure.’

Finally, the group weighed in on the upcoming rulemaking that is intended to substantially raise minimum pilot qualifications, requiring all commercial airline pilots to have an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license as of August 1, 2013. Designed to ensure that the first officer position at a regional airline is not an entry-level job for an inexperienced pilot, the group is on guard for industry attempts to water down this provision through a loophole that will allow academic courses to count in lieu of actual hands-on experience in the cockpit.

‘We have the painful first-hand experience of how the airlines can operate to the detriment of passengers and safety, and we are keenly aware of how their lobbyists operate in the shadows here in Washington,’ stated Karen Eckert of Williamsville, New York, another of Beverly Eckert’s sisters. “We are going to be extremely vigilant in making sure that this rulemaking is executed in full accordance with Congress’s intent, and intend to use members in both Houses to the fullest extent to make sure that safety comes first in this critical FAA undertaking.’