Buffalo, New York- September 9, 2010 – With Congress having passed comprehensive aviation safety legislation in the aftermath of the crash of Continental Flight 3407, the ‘Families of Continental Flight 3407’ have now set their sights on the Federal Aviation Administration’s implementation of the law. A cornerstone to the legislation is the provision dealing with minimum pilot qualifications, and the family members are challenging FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to stand firm on Congress’s mandate that all commercial airline First Officers have an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license with 1,500 hours of flight time.
“For the past year, the talking heads have tried to paint this as a quality versus quantity debate,” stated Scott Maurer of Moore, South Carolina, who lost his daughter Lorin. “Congress has now sent a clear message that it wants both, in the form of key new qualitative elements, taken right from Administrator Babbitt’s congressional testimony, as well as significantly higher hands-on experience. To put a young first officer with 250 hours of flight time in the cockpit of a commercial plane as his or her first professional job is simply not in the best interest of safety, and we hope that Administrator Babbitt will stay true to 1,500 hours and not allow this provision to be watered down.”
Leading the charge against this critical measure are the usual culprits, the Air Transport Association (ATA) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA), as they maneuver to protect their industry model of paying minimum wage-level salaries to entry level pilots. The ATA sent a letter to the leadership of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure last fall calling the provision both ‘overly’ and ‘unnecessarily prescriptive.’
“All we can do is shake our heads over quotes like that”, stated Susan Bourque of East Aurora, New York, who lost her sister and noted 9/11 activist Beverly Eckert. “We are so frustrated with the airlines not accepting any responsibility, and not learning their lesson from Flight 3407 and what went on at Colgan Air. You could see this tragedy coming from a mile away as the industry has outsourced more and more in the past ten years, and yet these warning signs were repeatedly ignored. So many wonderful and talented lives were needlessly taken away, and now it is time to act decisively to make sure this is never allowed to happen again.”
Administrator Babbitt and the FAA are expected to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) at some point this fall, which will be the agency’s next step in the rulemaking process. After a public comment period, a final rule will then be released. The family group is prepared for stiff industry opposition at every step of the way, although Congress has moved to discourage the usual industry delay tactics in the rulemaking process by setting a two-year deadline on the final rule with a default mechanism that will require the current ATP license if a new regulation is not in place by that date.
“Once again, we have Administrator Babbitt and the FAA confronted by the challenge of the age-old dual mandate of safety versus promoting the industry,” added Karen Eckert of Williamsville, New York, another sister of Beverly Eckert. “In the past, safety has repeatedly taken a backseat as the industry has mastered the art of back-room bullying and arm-twisting to get its way with the FAA. Hopefully, in releasing this NPRM and ultimately a final rule, Administrator Babbitt will come through with a victory for safety and all the passengers and victims’ families whose voices get overpowered by the industry time after time.”