The pilot of the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River last month and federal lawmakers paid tribute to everyone affected by the Flight 3407 tragedy Tuesday at a congressional hearing where a union official cited the crash as proof that the federal government must toughen airline safety regulations.
"My heart goes out to all those affected by the tragic loss of Continental Connection Flight 3407," Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III said at a House subcommittee hearing on the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in which all 155 lives were saved.
"Words cannot express my sadness and grief at the loss of 50 lives. The families of those no longer with us are in my thoughts and in my heart."
Meanwhile, the coordinator of air safety, health and security at the Association of Flight Attendants said the Clarence crash highlights the differences between the National Transportation Safety Board's approach to safety and that of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The safety board, which investigates plane crashes, "appears to favor the precautionary principle," while the FAA, which regulates aviation, "appears to favor cost-benefit analysis," Candace K. Kolander said.
"This tragic accident gives the aviation industry an opportunity to revisit these differing approaches to regulating safety, and hopefully helps bring us back toward the precautionary principle and away from cost-benefit," Kolander said.
Also at the hearing, Patrick Harten, the air traffic controller who handled Flight 1549, thought that Sullenberger's decision to ditch in the Hudson amounted to a death sentence for everyone aboard.
"People don't survive landings on the Hudson River," Harten said. "I thought it was his own death sentence."
Sullenberger and his co-pilot, Jeffrey B. Skiles, told the panel that experienced pilots are quitting because of deep cuts in their pay and benefits.
The heroic pilot testified that his pay has been cut by 40 percent in recent years and that his pension has been terminated and replaced with a promise "worth pennies on the dollar" from the federally created Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. These cuts followed a wave of airline bankruptcies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks compounded by the current recession, he said.
He said the problems began with deregulation of the industry in the 1970s. Then "the bankruptcies were used by some as a fishing expedition to get what they could not get in normal times," Sullenberger said of the airlines.
The safety board and the FAA have disagreed on several regulatory issues that have surfaced in wake of the Feb. 12 crash in Clarence. Notably, the board has suggested more stringent controls on turboprop planes flying in icy conditions and less reliance on autopilot, and the FAA has not followed the board's recommendations.
Noting that the House Aviation Subcommittee will likely want to discuss the Clarence crash in more detail at a separate hearing, Margaret Gilligan, the FAA's associate administrator for aviation safety, said the agency mourned the loss of life in the Buffalo-area crash.
"We are fully supportive of the ongoing NTSB investigation," she said, ". . . I want to assure you that we will always strive to provide you with the timeliest information possible."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.