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Experience matters, so regional airlines should give up effort to weaken pilot training rules

The regional airline industry continues to insist that requiring pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight time before they begin ferrying passengers is an impossible goal, and one that has thinned the pool of pilot candidates. Baloney.

Congress should not buy into this attempt to weaken new safety requirements stemming from the 2009 plane crash in Clarence Center that killed 50.

In recent remarks prepared for testimony to the Senate aviation subcommittee in Washington, the interim president of the Regional Airline Association used the phrase “unintended consequences” to describe the effect of the new rules on the quality and quantity of new pilots applying to regional carriers.

Faye Malarkey Black went on to say that airlines are finding fewer pilot candidates in part because they have spent too much “unstructured” time trying to attain the 1,500 flying hours.

It is difficult to imagine the argument that less experience is acceptable being made about a surgeon or anyone else responsible for the lives of others. Ask any air passenger whether he wants to be the one helping train his pilot.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer had it exactly right when he said it is “troubling that the regional airlines continue to try to weaken the critical new safety rules” that were adopted following the Feb. 12, 2009, crash. The Families of Continental Flight 3407 fought for those changes, with Schumer a key supporter. Both have worked hard to block industry attempts to water down the rules.

Now Schumer promises to prod Congress to “flatly reject” the push by carriers to get what he said would be a two-tiered pilot training system, one for major carriers and one for the smaller airlines.

Joining the senator was another strong advocate for the families’ cause and a hero in his own right, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, pilot of the US Airways “Miracle on the Hudson” crash-landing that saved 155 lives in January 2009. Hearing him accuse the regional carriers of “twisting facts and making false claims about pilot shortages while taking financial shortcuts that could threaten the flying public,” as reported in The News, should carry great weight. He testified to the Senate panel and urged Congress to leave the rules alone, advice Congress should follow.

The regional airline industry continues to grab at straws in its attempts to circumvent appropriate regulations. Its trade group told an aviation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that the rule requiring 1,500 hours of flight experience is creating a pilot shortage. That’s where Black used “unintended consequences” at least 16 times in 17 pages of written testimony submitted to the committee.

If there is a pilot shortage it’s because the industry wants to continue pushing poverty wages on its junior pilots. Sully is right when he points out that more pilots would enter commercial aviation if the industry paid better, as opposed to the $16,400 salary of the primary pilot of Flight 3407. The Government Accountability Office released a report last year showing that there is an ample supply of pilots. These veterans just do not want to work for low wages, and no one could blame them.

Members of Congress should ask themselves whether they’d be willing to fly with pilots who meet only the low standards sought by the industry.