Provisions on Pilot Fatigue, Training, Qualifications, Airline Safety Programs, and Training Record Database in the Spotlight
Buffalo, New York- August 1, 2012 – Two years to the day that President Obama signed the ‘Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010’ into law, after being unanimously passed by both Houses of Congress, the Families of Continental (now United) Flight 3407 issued the following statement recognizing both what has been already accomplished and also what key milestones still lie ahead. They called on the President, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to honor the memory of their loved ones lost, as well as to stand up for the safety of the flying public, by not giving in to an intensive lobbying effort by the airline industry to delay and water down the key safety measures remaining to be implemented. Of particular importance are key rulemakings in the areas of pilot training and minimum qualification requirements.
“On the evening of Thursday, February 12th, 2009, our world was shattered when our loved ones were lost in a completely preventable crash in Clarence Center, New York, as Continental (now United) Flight 3407 was on approach to the Buffalo airport. In the midst of an NTSB investigation and public hearing in the subsequent months, we learned that while on paper Federal Aviation Regulations establish ‘One Level of Safety’ for all major and regional carriers, in reality, a drastic difference existed between the regional carrier, Colgan Air, who operated the flight, and the parent carrier, Continental (now United), which marketed and sold the tickets for the flight.”
“After nearly eighteen months of intensive advocacy on our part, we achieved a small measure of satisfaction when Congress and the President came together to enact significant safety legislation, primarily aimed at ensuring that our nation’s regional carriers make the same commitment to and investment in safety as the major carriers. The legislation contained provisions addressing a wide range of deficiencies in some of our nation’s regional airlines like Colgan Air and Pinnacle Airlines. However, we were adamant at the time that the law would only be as strong as the regulations that it produced. Now two years later, we realize that there is still much work to be done to truly achieve the effect of what Congress intended in passing this law.
“Make no mistake, we are extremely grateful for what already has been accomplished. FAA has issued historic new requirements for flight and duty time limits, which will significantly improve how regional airline pilots are scheduled and reduce the risk of pilot fatigue. DOT has issued strong guidance to ensure that consumers are made aware when purchasing tickets of which flights are operated by regional airlines. Numerous committees have been established, and reports and studies completed, by FAA, GAO, and the DOT Office of the Inspector General, to identify potential safety problems and raise visibility on significant issues like pilot commuting, participation in voluntary safety programs, pilot education and training, implementation of NTSB safety recommendations, levels of FAA carrier oversight, and numerous others.
“However, we return to the simple fact that the true ‘teeth’ of this law will lie in the final rules that are executed. By our reading of the law, nine (9) items required regulatory action. At this point, only the flight and duty time rule has been completed. Five of the remaining eight congressional regulatory requirements are addressed in two critical Notices of Proposed Rulemaking, dealing with crewmember training, and pilot certification and qualification requirements. On this two year anniversary, FAA has already missed the congressionally-mandated deadlines for final rules on both of these projects, and is currently targeted to miss the deadline on the crucial pilot training rule by over two years. Additionally, FAA is at various stages of completion on three other required rules addressing safety management systems, the establishment of an electronic pilot records database, and pilot mentoring, leadership, and professional development.
“In the past two years we have learned all too well the concerted opposition from the airline industry and their powerful lobbyists directed against these rulemaking efforts. Publicly, they cry that the sky is falling to any congressional committee, federal agency, or media entity that will listen. They attempt to jam up the rulemaking dockets with hundreds upon thousands of pages of comments. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, they exert pressure in all corners of Washington and certainly have been known to throw around generous campaign contributions as well. On the other hand, groups like ours play David to their Goliath, putting forth a grassroots advocacy effort that will always be grossly outnumbered by any measure. As the memory of the horrible tragedy of Flight 3407 fades with each passing day, and countless other issues demand our nation’s attention, we continue to struggle onward in honor of our loved ones, in the hope that our government will see through to completion the noble aims of the Airline Safety Act, thus sparing other families the suffering that we have endured.
“On February 12th, 2009, and in the subsequent months, our faith in our government was shaken as we learned about the gross safety deficiencies that were allowed to germinate at Colgan Air, the results of nearly a decade-long laissez-faire approach by FAA to the regional airline boom. As we fight to see these critical safety-enhancing rulemakings through to completion, we cannot help but feel that time is our enemy, and that with each passing day, our government’s sense of urgency and resolve to achieve these key safety reforms grows weaker. We close with an impassioned plea to the key players; namely, President Obama, Secretary LaHood, and acting Administrator Huerta: we say to you, please think of your loved ones – your spouses, your children, your parents, your sibilings – and restore our faith in our government by standing up and doing the right thing by achieving a TRUE ‘One Level of Safety’ for every passenger who flies on a regional airline.”