Panel rec­om­mends rolling back avi­a­tion safety rules

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JOAN LOWY 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.

Law­mak­ers said at the time that 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 less 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 acer­bat­ing 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 four-year col­lege ed­u­ca­tion to ac­quire the greater fly­ing hours they now need to qual­ify for an air trans­port li­cense. As a re­sult, fewer peo­ple are will­ing to pur­sue ca­reers as pi­lots.

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

“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 en­trylevel salaries to at­tract as many pi­lots as they need.

“UPS and FedEx have good pay and ben­e­fits and thou­sands of 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. Chad Balen­tine, an ALPA rep­re­sen­ta­tive and mem­ber of the com­mit­tee, said re­duc­ing the re­quired en­try-level flight hours would “jeop­ar­dize safety.”

A group rep­re­sent­ing the fam­i­lies of vic­tims of the Col­gan crash said in a state­ment last week that re­gional air­lines have taken their case to the ad­vi­sory panel “to by­pass the leg­isla­tive process where they have run into con­sid­er­able re­sis­tance.”

In June, the Se­nate Com­merce com­mit­tee passed a bill that in­cluded a pro­vi­sion al­low­ing prospec­tive air­line pi­lots to sub­sti­tute aca­demic train­ing for fly­ing hours.

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