WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration is thinking of revising the tougher pilot training rules that it implemented just last year, and the Families of Continental Flight 3407 – who won passage of a law calling for the new standards – aren’t very happy about it.
The agency set up a committee earlier this year that will “develop and recommend to the FAA new or updated guidance material, notices, handbooks and other related materials for air-carrier training and qualification,” according to the committee’s charter, which the Flight 3407 families obtained and released Tuesday.
The formation of the committee in April came amid loud complaints from the airline industry about the new FAA rule that requires new commercial pilots to have 1,500 hours of cockpit experience. The regional airlines – which generally employ younger, lower-paid pilots and which fly an increasing share of flights on behalf of the big-name airlines – say that new requirement is creating a pilot shortage.
But the families, who fought long and hard for that experience requirement, said the FAA’s move to set up that new pilot training committee could undercut their fight for aviation safety.
Leaders of the families group said they were particularly concerned that Donald R. Dillman, managing director of flight operations for Airlines for America, an industry group, is co-chairman of the committee along with an FAA official.
“This whole process just reeks of the old days of the FAA taking its marching orders from the airlines, which is exactly how the major safety gap between the regional and mainline carriers was allowed to develop in the first place,” said Scott Maurer of Moore, S.C., whose daughter, Lorin, was among the 50 people killed in the Feb. 12, 2009, crash in Clarence Center.
The 15-member committee does not include representatives of either the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations or the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation, groups that fought for tougher pilot standards the last time the FAA addressed the issue.
“It is extremely disappointing to see the two parties who didn’t toe the company line on the previous pilot qualification rule-making committee, who stood up for the flying public and for putting safety first, not be included on this new, hush-hush panel,” Maurer said.
FAA spokeswoman Laura J. Brown did not respond to a detailed set of questions about the new committee.
In the committee’s charter, the FAA said that it set up the new panel because the aviation industry is constantly evolving.
“The FAA must continue to review existing air-carrier training and qualification regulations, policies, and guidance to ensure they are current and relevant,” the agency said. “In addition, there continues to be new challenges with changing technology and new research that may necessitate the development of new regulations, policies, and guidance.”
But the Flight 3407 families have insisted that the 2009 crash in Clarence, which federal investigators blamed on pilot error, proved that the tougher pilot training and experience rules implemented last year are necessary.
“These new qualification requirements provide an opportunity to elevate the profession of regional airline pilots by enhancing their entry-level preparation and credentials, and hopefully the FAA will recognize this and stand up for the safety of the flying public,” said Susan Bourque, of East Aurora, whose sister Beverly Eckert, a 9/11 activist, was killed in the crash.