Challenge Babbitt, Obama Administration to Break from FAA’s Recent History of Being Rubber Stamp for Industry

Buffalo, New York- October 11, 2010 – In response to a Wall Street Journal article (‘FAA Mulls Proposals for Pilot Qualifications’) that suggested it was likely that the Federal Aviation Administration would ’embrace’ a proposal from an Aviation Rulemaking Committee that would drastically undercut recently-passed bipartisan aviation safety legislation, the ‘Families of Continental Flight 3407’ lashed out at the Committee’s majority report and the Regional Airline Association (RAA) who spearheaded its efforts. In the proposal, the RAA put forth the recommendation that the FAA water down Congress’s 1,500 flight hour minimum for newly-hired pilots to a much more industry-friendly 500 hour threshold, which would effectively short-circuit Congress’s attempt to significantly reduce the experience gap in the cockpits of regional carriers versus the major carriers.

“We find this development to be absolutely infuriating,” stated Scott Maurer, of Moore, South Carolina, who lost his thirty year old daughter Lorin. “For a representative of the Regional Airline Association to be in the lead on this major safety initiative is like putting the fox in charge of the security plan for the chicken coop. The RAA has one and only one priority in this rulemaking: for its regional members to be able to continue to hire low-experience pilots who are forced to work for less than $20,000 a year. When you consider that the last six fatality-producing commercial air crashes have all been on regional airlines, this organization and its members have very low credibility with us. This 500 hour proposal is clearly a ploy to negotiate down the 1,500 hour requirement as low as possible. Passengers on regional airlines deserve so much better, and we are going to fight this to the hilt.”

While endorsing the enhanced qualitative requirements in the proposal, the group continued to reiterate the importance of the ‘quality AND quantity’ approach that was resoundingly backed in a bipartisan fashion by both houses of Congress. They also voiced their deep concerns over allowing academic coursework to substitute for hands-on experience in the cockpit, citing the inadequacy of the stall recovery training provided by Colgan Air to the pilots of Flight 3407, in particular on the plane’s stick pusher safety feature.

“The stick pusher ‘familiarization’, and we use that term very loosely, provided by Colgan Air to its pilots, highlights the glaring difference between hands-on experience in the cockpit and a Powerpoint approach to training,” added John Kausner of Clarence Center, New York, who lost his twenty-four year old daughter Ellyce. “There are 155 people and their families who rejoice every day over the extensive hands-on experience and training of Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles. Meanwhile, we are haunted by the FAA’s and airlines’ decision not to act on an NTSB safety recommendation that stick pusher training be accomplished in a hands-on fashion in a simulator. You cannot convince any of us that any classroom-based training is a viable substitute for actually getting in the cockpit.”

The group also railed at the regional airlines’ opposition to a recommendation in the proposal which would require all regional airlines to report salary data for their first officers to the FAA on a yearly basis.

“For the RAA and its members to object to this measure on the basis of it being ‘sensitive’ data and to call it ‘unfair’, is a slap in the face to each and every family who needlessly lost a loved one on Flight 3407,” stated Kenneth Mellett of McLean, Virginia, who lost his thirty-four year old son Coleman. “For my wife MaryEllen and myself, the only thing we find to be ‘sensitive’ and ‘unfair’ is that our son had absolutely no idea that he was flying with an airline that paid its pilots such ridiculously low wages to be entrusted with human lives. If Colgan Air and other regional airlines are going to insist on this type of salary scale, we strongly believe that the passengers flying on their planes are entitled to have access to that information when they are deciding what airline to book their tickets on. We learned the hard way that you do get what you pay for.”

The group also continued to object to the behind-the-scenes influence of the major airlines and their lobbying arm, the Air Transport Association (ATA), with the FAA over the past decade, and challenged the Obama administration to resist these pressures. The ATA was another prominent member of the advisory committee who formulated this pilot qualifications proposal.

“When you research the industry and its relationship with the FAA during this extensive regional airline expansion over the past ten years or so, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that the airlines were essentially given a free pass to self-regulate when it came to safety,” stated Karen Eckert of Williamsville, New York, who lost her sister Beverly. “When we consider all the unheeded NTSB safety recommendations that came into play with Flight 3407, we cannot avoid the feeling that this hands-off approach was a factor in this highly avoidable tragedy. We are counting on this administration and Administrator Babbitt to come down firmly on the side of safety and the traveling public as the airlines attempt to sabotage yet another critical safety measure.”