WASHINGTON – Federal officials Tuesday unveiled a set of long-awaited, more stringent rules for pilot training that aim to prevent another plane crash like the one that claimed 50 lives in Clarence Center nearly five years ago.
Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed because the pilot reacted improperly to a stall warning – and because he had never been fully trained to handle the plane’s stall-recovery equipment, federal investigators found.
But under the rules introduced by Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx and Federal Aviation Administrator Michael P. Huerta, commercial pilots will have to receive simulator training on how to prevent and recover from aerodynamic stalls – such as the one that happened before the Flight 3407 crash – and other midair upsets.
“This rule will give our pilots the most advanced training available to handle the emergencies they may encounter,” Huerta said. “It’s a huge advance for aviation safety.”
The new rules will officially take effect in February 2019, a full decade after the Flight 3407 crash, but Huerta said he expects airlines to adapt to them sooner than that.
Also under the new rules:
• Pilots also will have to get expanded crosswind training, including training for wind gusts.
• Air carriers will have to use data to track remedial training for pilots with performance deficiencies.
• Airlines also will have to implement training for those who monitor their pilots’ performance.
• The FAA will implement enhanced runway safety procedures.
“Altogether, these rules mean that when a passenger boards an aircraft for a vacation, a business trip or to visit family and friends, they can feel safer than ever before,” Foxx said.
The Families of Continental Flight 3407 pushed Congress into passing aviation safety legislation in 2010 that mandated the new training rules, as well as strict new standards for pilot experience and the amount of rest pilots must get. The FAA has finalized all of those new rules now, and Foxx said the families deserve credit for it all.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., agreed, saying: “They have been an inspiring and powerful force in Congress that led to this ruling to finally hold pilots to higher standards with better training and more experience to keep our families safe.”
In turn, the Flight 3407 families lavished praise on the new pilot training rules.
“Today is a really good day for us as a family group and I think everybody who flies,” said Susan Bourque, whose sister Beverly Eckert, a 9/11 activist, was killed in the crash. “We now not only have one, but we now have three new rules that will go a very long way to ensuring that all commercial airlines will be operating under the same high standards.”
Most importantly, the families said, the new rules will require that pilots receive simulator training so that they know how to use the equipment they must use to recover from an aerodynamic stall or other sudden upset.
The captain of Flight 3407, Marvin D. Renslow, never received such hands-on training, and investigators found that Renslow, after hearing a stall warning, did exactly the opposite of what he should have done, thereby flying the plane into the ground.
“The rule is a huge step forward in addressing the failures and weaknesses of what caused the crash of Flight 3407,” said Karen Eckert, another sister of Beverly Eckert.
At the same time, though, the FAA has more work to do.
Huerta said the FAA still has to finalize supplemental rules that will specify exactly how flight simulators must be upgraded to comply with the new pilot training rules.
In addition, Huerta said, his agency left out a section of the pilot-training rules that was meant to address training for flight attendants and dispatchers. Finalizing that section of the rules would have forced the FAA to blow past its deadline for improving pilot training, so the agency simply left those other issues for another time.
Huerta originally committed to completing the pilot-training rules in October, but the government shutdown forced the agency to push back the release of the rules until this month.
But the Families of Continental Flight 3407 weren’t complaining.
“Administrator Huerta and Secretary Foxx lived up to every single thing they said they would do,” said Mary Ellen Mellett, whose son, jazz musician Coleman Mellett, was killed in the crash. “Even with the shutdown, they managed to come through.”
The pilot-training rules were the biggest remaining piece of unfinished business from that 2010 aviation safety law.
The FAA still has to finalize rules on crew resource management and a pilot-hiring database, but “the heavy lifting is done,” said John Kausner, whose daughter, Ellyce, was among the crash victims.
What’s left now, though, is due diligence, said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who led the fight in Congress for the aviation safety law passed after the Flight 3407 crash.
“The FAA must now push the airlines to include all crew members in all aspects of the new training requirement,” Schumer said, “and we will continue to push the airline industry to follow these new laws of the skies.”