Tough new rules for the nation’s pilots may be completed this year after all, as the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday reversed its stance and sought to clear up the misinformation it gave out to the families of Continental Connection Flight 3407.
In an about-face Wednesday, the top FAA official said he is still committed to having the long-delayed regulations for pilot qualifications and training take effect this year and apologized for the agency indicating otherwise to the families of Flight 3407.
On Tuesday, – the fourth anniversary of the regional airline crash that killed 50 people in Clarence Center – the families were told by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., that the FAA was committed to completing the new pilot regulations this year.
But a few hours later, at a meeting with FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta and other top agency officials, the families were told that the training rule will likely not be completed until June 2014.
“During that discussion, our staff provided the families with a handout containing misinformation and for that I am deeply sorry,” Huerta said in a letter to Schumer Wednesday. “I would like to take this opportunity to correct the record and reaffirm our commitment to completing our work on these significant safety rulemakings.”
Family members who lost loved ones on Flight 3407 have been lobbying for tougher training for pilots, and the proposed rules would, for the first time, require pilots to train in a simulator to learn how to react to unexpected stalls and upsets.
“When we met with the families, we handed out a document that erroneously indicated that the flight crew member training rule may be published in 2014. That is not the case,” Huerta said in the letter.
“Let me be clear: we are doing everything in our power to move forward with the important safety initiatives outlined under the act,” he continued. “Specifically, I am committed to completing our work on the pilot qualifications rule by August of this year and the flight crew member training rule by October of this year.”
Schumer – who was appalled Tuesday when the FAA told the families something contrary to what the agency told him – said Huerta called him Wednesday morning to apologize and admit the agency’s mistake.
Schumer said Huerta’s letter is “crystal clear and doesn’t have any outs.”
“After these two days of a bit of a roller coaster, we’re in much better shape than we were when we started,” Schumer said after informing the families of the latest turn of events Wednesday. “You always have to watch the FAA, but I’m more confident now than I have ever been.”
Flight 3407 family members – who went to Washington on the fourth anniversary of the crash to lobby the FAA and lawmakers for the tougher regulations – also were thrilled by Wednesday’s news, particularly after the confusion from the previous day.
Still, they expressed caution.
“We’re very, very pleased,” said Karen Eckert, whose sister Beverly Eckert was a victim of the crash. “We have it in writing, and it’s good, because we like to hold the FAA’s feet to the fire.”
“Nothing is absolute in Washington, but we’re going to treat this like that’s his word and his promise,” said a leader of the families group, Kevin Kuwik, whose girlfriend, Lorin Maurer, was killed in the crash.
“And we’re going to be there every step of the way over the next six to eight months, looking right over the FAA’s shoulder … and looking over the White House’s shoulder until this stuff gets done.”