The success of the families of the victims of the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center has, predictably, caused stresses for the airline industry. Pilots now need more training than before. They must be given longer periods of rest than before.
The consequence, especially for regional airlines whose pilots had less training than those of the big carriers, has been difficulty in having enough trained pilots to meet the demand for service. Indeed, the head of the Regional Airline Association, Roger Cohen, says the problem could cause a loss of service. “Every community, large and small, if you’re not concerned about losing some or all of your air service, you should be.”
Fortunately, there is a solution for this problem: Cope. Early stresses were inevitable but the fact is, if there is a demand for pilots, it will eventually be met.
Indeed, the Air Line Pilots Association, which has 1,154 members on layoff, says there is no pilot shortage. There seems to be a shortage of trained pilots willing to work for the relative pittance – the co-pilot of Flight 3407 was earning $16,000 – paid by regional airlines. If part of the solution is that airfares have to rise a little to cover increased costs, that is far better than the terrible alternative.
Flight 3407 crashed into a house in Clarence Center because the pilot was poorly trained, taking the exact wrong action when the plane went into a stall. Contributing to that was the lack of rest, the co-pilot’s illness and failure by both to obey cockpit rules prohibiting talking about non-flight issues. The cost was 50 lives: everyone on board the plane was killed, as was a man in the house that it demolished.
What is more, Colgan Air, operator of Flight 3407, had been warned about a lax safety culture six months before the crash. Does the airline industry really think that nothing should be done about this? Did it really expect that Congress wouldn’t respond not just to the pain and outrage of bereaved families, but to the facts? Of course better training is needed. Of course pilots need sufficient rest so that, contrary to what occurred on Flight 3407, deceased pilots aren’t found in the aftermath to have been repeatedly yawning before a crash.
There are consequences, intended and unintended, to virtually every action. There are those who will insist that nothing can ever be done on any issue because of those ramifications. But inaction also has consequences, intended and unintended. There have been enough of those already to overcome the industry’s disgraceful reluctance to embrace these changes and figure out how best to make them work.
That’s not happening. Some politicians, whose constituents are feeling the brunt of the changes, are demanding accommodations. The industry is agitating, dangling the threat of loss of service, but saying nothing, of course, about the promise of saved lives.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was one of the leading advocates for increased training requirements and he is rejecting the idea of weakening the new rules. He should stand firm. There may be some difficulties in adjusting to this change, but the difficulties of lost parents and children are far worse. This pain will be temporary; the other is forever.