Buffalo, New York- March 21, 2012 – The ‘Families of Continental Flight 3407’ issued the following statement in response to testimony by Thomas Hendricks of the Airlines for America (A4A), the high-powered lobbying organization representing the nation’s major air carriers, at Tuesday’s Senate Aviation hearing on ‘Commercial Airline Safety Oversight’:
“To say we were deeply disappointed in Mr. Hendricks’ testimony would be an understatement. At the core, he misses the mark in recognizing that the greatest challenges faced by our commercial aviation system exist at the regional airline level, where the needless and preventable tragedy of Flight 3407, and the previous five fatal commercial crashes, have occurred.
“First and foremost, Flight 3407 illustrated the glaring need for updates in how commercial airlines train their pilots. P.L. 111-216, “The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Extension Act of 2010” mandated that FAA complete, by October 2011, a rulemaking project that has been ongoing since March 1999. Included in that law, Congress directed the FAA to address key training deficiencies exposed by Flight 3407 regarding stall and upset recognition and recovery, as well as air carriers’ utilization of remedial training programs for certain pilots.
“As the FAA has now been through two rounds of proposals and public comments with this rulemaking project, spanning the past three years, we find it absolutely unacceptable that A4A would recommend that FAA withdraw the most recent proposal and ‘go back to the drawing board’ in convening another rulemaking advisory committee. That is exactly the approach that resulted in it taking over twenty-five years to update our flight and duty time regulations. While that might be the best approach for the airline industry’s bottom line, it is hardly the best approach for safety and our nation’s flying public.
“Secondly, we absolutely reject A4A’s claims about the recent Pilot Certification and Qualification proposed rulemaking. Once again, they attempt to cast this as an issue of ‘Quantity versus Quality’. As we have emphasized over and over, the discussion should truly center on ‘Quantity AND Quality’; these areas are absolutely NOT mutually exclusive, despite A4A’s attempt to paint them as such. We endorse FAA’s approach to ensuring that entry-level pilots get the right qualitative type of training in critical areas like multi-engine experience and operating in a multi-crew environment. However, we just as strongly believe that the young pilots of this generation need more, not less, hands-on experience in the cockpit, as the increase of technology and automation creates the dangerous potential for deteriorated ‘stick-and-rudder’ skills for the next generation of commercial airline pilots. Requiring all first officers to attain this revamped Airline Transport Pilot license will achieve both aims.
“Indeed, it is very telling to us that A4A references the ‘unintended consequence of this rule becoming a significant barrier to recruiting airline pilots.’ From our vantage point, any discussion of significant barriers to recruiting future pilots should start and end with reference to entry level first officers being paid salaries in the neighborhood of $18,000 by some regional airlines. There is an old saying that, ‘You get what you pay for,’ and our group learned the truth of that statement the hard way.
“Finally, Mr. Hendricks repeatedly highlights in his testimony the importance and value of data-driven analysis programs, and the industry’s commitment to them. When it comes to the employment of best practice safety management programs like FOQA and LOSA, we could not agree more as to their value in identifying potentially dangerous issues before they manifest themselves in an accident or incident. However, the industry’s commitment to these programs rings somewhat hollow for us, as our loved ones bought tickets from Continental (now United), and yet were allowed to fly with a regional carrier (Colgan/Mesaba/Pinnacle) that did not invest in the same best practice programs as the parent carrier. We will never have a true ‘One Level of Safety’ when such a glaring gap between the have’s and have-not’s of the industry is allowed to exist.
“As we attend safety hearings like yesterday’s, we are constantly reminded of a haunting truth. Where some sadly only see dollar signs, we see husbands and daughters and missed holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table. When it comes to motives, all involved in the safety discussion must acknowledge that what we have done over the past three years will do much more for them and their loved ones than it will do for us. Every day we hear the voices of those lost on February 12, 2009 crying out, ‘Safety must always come first.'”