Tougher training, tracking of regional pilots approved
WASHINGTON — Responding to the deaths of 50 people in the crash last year of a Continental Airlines flight near Buffalo, N.Y., Congress passed legislation Friday requiring increased training and experience for regional airline pilots.
The House passed the measure, which also extends Federal Aviation Administration funding, on a voice vote just before midnight Thursday, and the Senate approved an identical piece of legislation Friday morning. No member of either House objected.
The legislation requires all airline pilots to log at least 1,500 hours of flight time before flying passengers, up from the current 250-hour minimum for newly hired co-pilots. The bill also boosts training, mandates the creation of a national database of pilot records to help airlines conduct background checks before hiring, and aims to reduce pilot fatigue by directing the FAA to update rules on pi- lot duty hours.
In addition, passengers who shop for airline tickets online must be notified which carrier will operate each segment of the itinerary.
The bill, which Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., lauded as the strongest airline safety legislation in decades, was drafted in response to a Continental flight operated by regional carrier Colgan Air that crashed in February 2009, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground.
Regional airlines were involved in the past seven fatal U.S. airline accidents, and pilot performance was a factor in four cases, said Costello, who chairs the House Aviation Subcommittee.
Regional and commuter airlines, which are most affected, voiced concerns that the government was getting too involved in training issues.
Congress intends to have a comprehensive airline bill ready by Sept. 30, when the latest extension of FAA funding expires.