The regional airlines have no valid argument when it comes to their opposition to stricter pilot training requirements. Yet they continue to put up weak excuses as to why it is so difficult to operate under the new rules.
The industry just the other day blamed a key safety requirement stemming from the 2009 plane crash in Clarence Center, which killed 50. But the executives probably didn’t expect the resistance they got from members of Congress from both parties, who got it right when they criticized the industry for not paying its pilots enough.
As reported in The News, the regional airlines and the nation’s largest pilots union clashed at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing that was supposed to be about air service to small communities. Instead the focus shifted to whether there is a pilot shortage and, if so, what caused it.
The regional airline industry would like the public to believe the shortage is due to recently implemented safety rules requiring newly hired co-pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight experience or its equivalent.
The suggestion is an insult to the hard work by the Families of Continental Flight 3407. Those family members devoted themselves to improving airline safety and lobbied Congress for that change and many others.
Bryan K. Bedford, president and CEO of Republic Airlines, testifying on behalf of the Regional Airline Association, put up an argument that contradicts common sense. Bedford said the requirement was leaving some regional airlines so thin on pilots that they have had to trim service. He added that the pilot experience rule may be forcing the airlines to hire pilots who have 1,500 hours of flight time but who otherwise aren’t the best aviators.
The argument makes little sense to the flying public, which would rather that pilots have more, not less, experience. Would you want your doctor to have performed many surgeries before turning the knife on you, or fewer?
What does make sense is the union’s argument that beginning pilots are being paid “near-poverty wages.” If the regional airlines wanted to get more pilots, including veteran pilots now sitting on the sidelines, they could do so by offering a decent or even competitive wage.
Kevin Kuwik, one of the Families of Flight 3407 leaders, said that without the experience requirement, the industry will continue to pay food stamp-level wages. He noted that the co-pilot of Flight 3407, who investigators said made critical errors in the cockpit, earned $16,000 a year and as a result lived with her family in Seattle even though her job was based in Newark, N.J.
The regional airline industry should not be allowed to use its low wages to derail the safety improvements mandated by Congress after the Flight 3407 crash. Instead, they should pony up on the wage front and then watch the line forming with experienced pilots.