Panel urges rolling back avi­a­tion safety rules

Re­gional car­ri­ers back change, pi­lots op­posed

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - NATION - By Joan Lowy The As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON — An in­flu­en­tial in­dus­try com­mit­tee rec­om­mended Thurs­day that the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion elim­i­nate or scale back dozens of safety rules, in­clud­ing one on air­line pi­lot qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

The FAA’S Avi­a­tion Rule­mak­ing Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee said the rec­om­men­da­tions are a re­sponse to an ef­fort by the agency to com­ply with President Don­ald Trump’s di­rec­tives to cut gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. The com­mit­tee ap­proved a re­port con­tain­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions by a vote of 14 to 4 with one ab­sten­tion.

Pi­lots unions and safety groups op­pose the rec­om­men­da­tion on pi­lot qual­i­fi­ca­tions, say­ing it would un­der­mine safety. Re­gional air­lines have been try­ing to roll back the pi­lot qual­i­fi­ca­tions rule since it was adopted by the FAA in re­sponse to a sweep­ing avi­a­tion safety law passed by Con­gress af­ter the last fa­tal crash of a U.S. pas­sen­ger air­liner.

Law­mak­ers­sai­datthetimethat they were con­cerned about re­ports in the wake of the crash of Col­gan Flight 3407 in Fe­bru­ary 2009 near Buf­falo, New York, that some rapidly grow­ing re­gional air­lines were hir­ing first of­fi­cers with far less ex­pe­ri­ence than pi­lots at ma­jor air­lines. All 49 peo­ple on board and a man on the ground were killed af­ter the cap­tain re­sponded in­cor­rectly to safety sys­tems, caus­ing the plane to stall.

Af­ter the crash, law­mak­ers in­creased the min­i­mum num­ber of flight hours first of­fi­cers must have in or­der to ob­tain a li­cense to fly com­mer­cial pas­sen­ger air­lin­ers to 1,500 hours, the same as cap­tains, lead­ing to more ex­pe­ri­enced first of­fi­cers.

Be­fore that, air­lines were al­lowed to hire first of­fi­cers with as few as

250 hours of fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Some air­lines would move first of­fi­cers into a cap­tain’s seat as soon as they had the min­i­mum 1,500 hours of fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The re­port rec­om­mends per­mit­ting pi­lots with fewer than 1,500 hours to qual­ify for an “air trans­port” li­cense if they re­ceive aca­demic train­ing from their air­line.

Air­lines say the cur­rent rule is ex­ac­er­bat­ing a pi­lot short­age that has caused some re­gional car­ri­ers to can­cel flights. The prob­lem, they say, is that it can cost prospec­tive pi­lots as much as they might pay for a fouryear col­lege ed­u­ca­tion to ac­quire the greater fly­ing hours they now need to qual­ify for an air trans­port li­cense.

Faye Malarkey Black, president of the re­gional air­line as­so­ci­a­tion, said the pro­posed changes would in­cor­po­rate more mean­ing­ful ed­u­ca­tion into pi­lot train­ing.

“Far from weak­en­ing safety, it’s one of the most im­por­tant things we can do right now to ad­vance pi­lot train­ing,” she said.

Air­line pi­lot unions and safety ad­vo­cates say the prob­lem is re­gional air­lines don’t pay high enough en­try-level salaries to at­tract as many pi­lots as they need.

“UPS and Fedex have good pay and­ben­e­fit­sandt­hou­sand­sof highly qual­i­fied pi­lot ap­pli­cants,” the Na­tional Air Dis­as­ter Foun­da­tion, a safety ad­vo­cacy group, said in a dis­sent­ing opinion to the com­mit­tee’s re­port. “There is only a pi­lot short­age of pi­lots able to work for $25,000 a year.”

The Air Line Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion In­ter­na­tional also op­posed op­poses the change, say­ing in its dis­sent­ing opinion that the pi­lot sup­ply in the United States re­mains strong.

David Duprey

The As­so­ci­ated Press De­bris at the scene of a Feb. 16, 2009, plane crash site of Con­ti­nen­tal Con­nec­tion Flight 3407 in Clarence Cen­ter, N.Y. This in­ci­dent led to Con­gress pass­ing a sweep­ing avi­a­tion safety law, which an in­flu­en­tial in­dus­try panel voted Thurs­day to rec­om­mend rolling back.

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