Airline Industry’s Efforts Were Successful in Watering Down Final Rule on Flight and Duty Times
Buffalo, New York- February 28, 2012 – With the third anniversary of the tragic crash of Continental Flight 3407 operated by Colgan Air just weeks past, the ‘Families of Continental Flight 3407’ reacted positively to Monday’s release by the Federal Aviation Administration of a proposal to significantly upgrade the initial certification requirements for commercial airline pilots. However, in anticipation of a powerful behind-the-scenes campaign by regional airlines to weaken the resulting final rule, the group pressed the Obama administration to stand firm in the interests of achieving an elusive ‘One Level of Safety’ and forcing regional airlines to bring their commitment and investment in safety and training up to the level of the major airlines.
“First of all, we must give credit where credit is due,” stated John Kausner of Clarence Center, New York, who lost his twenty-four year old daughter Elly. “Secretary LaHood and Administrator Huerta, and every one of their agencies’ members working on the implementation of the 2010 regional airline safety bill, have taken another significant step towards narrowing the safety gap between our nation’s major and regional airlines. We already have a final rule in place to limit fatigue for regional airline pilots, and now we have proposed rules in motion that will address training, safety management systems, and now pilot qualifications. We continue to fight for the day when there is no difference in boarding a flight that is operated by United, versus one operated by Pinnacle or Mesaba. Sadly, that was far from the case for Elly and the rest of our loved ones, and we will never let the regional airline industry or the traveling public lose sight of that.”
Monday’s proposal, which dealt with one of the cornerstone issues in the family group’s two-year push for the passage of P.L. 111-216, ‘The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010’, addressed Congress’s mandate that all commercial airline pilot possess an Airline Transport Pilot license, currently only required of captains, prior to being hired. If implemented, the proposal will significantly upgrade the entry-level experience and training of regional airline first officers, by elevating their hands-on flying experience from as little as 250 hours to 1,500 hours. It will also require key qualitative training elements including multi-engine experience, operations in adverse weather and high altitude conditions, and working in a multi-crew environment, all of which are expected to better prepare pilots to fly commercially.
“Flight hours cost money, and the regional airlines have been quick to emphasize that quality and not quantity is all that matters,” added Karen Eckert, of Williamville New York, who lost her sister and noted 9/11 widow and activist Beverly Eckert. “From day one, we have stated that these should not be mutually exclusive, and we feel that this proposal tries to strike the proper balance of making sure that each entry-level commercial pilot has the benefit of a significant amount of “stick time”, as well as the specific qualitative skills to set them up for success. Every veteran pilot that we talk to laments the lack of ‘stick and rudder’ skills in the latest generation of pilots, and Flight 3407 tragically showed us that less is not more when it comes to being able to hand fly a plane out of a difficult situation. We are encouraged that our nation’s next crop of pilots will potentially be held to a significantly higher standard, and hope that Secretary LaHood and Administrator Huerta can see this rulemaking through to completion.”
The group did express strong concerns over a potential loophole that would allow pilots coming from university flight schools to receive a significant reduction in their flight hour requirement for the ATP license in exchange for completing certain academic coursework. The current proposal allows such candidates to receive a restricted ATP license with 1,000 flight hours instead of 1,500. The regional airline industry is expected to make a strong push for this to be reduced even further, and similar industry efforts with the recently-released final rule on pilot flight and duty time limits resulted in multiple concessions to the industry in going from the FAA’s initial proposal to the final rule.
“The Regional Airline Association has already showed their cards in this case, and FAA, DOT, and OMB had better beware,” declared Scott Maurer of Moore, South Carolina, who lost his thirty-year-old daughter Lorin. “The RAA Vice President got himself appointed as head of the rulemaking advisory committee on this topic, and wouldn’t you know it, the committee’s final report said that a twenty-one year old should be allowed to substitute 1,000 hours of academic work for actual hands-on flight time. Flight 3407’s pilots received their training on the Q-400’s stick pusher in a classroom setting, and that clearly was not effective in preparing them to employ the stick pusher to recover from a stall. So we are extremely skeptical of the RAA’s argument. Yesterday’s proposal already provides for a 500 hour concession, a 33 percent reduction in what Congress has called for, and we will not stand for anything beyond that. We are counting on Secretary LaHood and Administrator Huerta, and the Office of Management and Budget, to dig in their heels and not be manipulated by a bunch of fast-talking lobbyists and their fancy facts and figures. In the memory of Lorin and everyone else lost in this needless tragedy, please do the right thing and stand up for safety.”
The proposed rule is now subject to a sixty-day public comment period, after which it will be refined by FAA and sent to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and the White House Office of Management and Budget for additional examination and coordination, with a final rule expected to be issued in the spring of 2013. In the absence of a final rule by August 1, 2013, P.L. 111-216 mandates that all commercial pilots possess an ATP license as of that date.