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Senate OKs measure to boost flight hours for new co-pilots

The Senate late Tuesday unanimously passed a proposal that would dramatically boost the number of flight hours that commercial co-pilots must have before they can fly passengers.

Moving forward on a bill to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, senators approved an amendment offered by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. The measure would require new co-pilots to have 800 hours of flight experience under specific, rigorous conditions. That's up from the current 250 hours of general experience.

The families who lost loved ones in the February 2009 commuter plane crash in Clarence Center -- in which pilot training and experience were key issues -- have been pushing for a 1,500-hour requirement.

But Schumer told the families last week that he "didn't have the votes" for that requirement, Scott Maurer, a key member of the families group, said Tuesday.

While the families will continue pushing the 1,500 requirement in House legislation, Maurer said, the Senate amendment "certainly sets the floor at a level that we believe will significantly improve aviation safety."

Schumer's amendment had been expected to be combined with a series of other changes to the FAA bill that are still being developed. Set to be released later this week, those changes also are likely to include additional aviation safety measures stemming from the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence.

Under the Schumer compromise, the FAA would have to set an 800-hour flight requirement for co-pilots by the end of next year. Some of that experience would have to be in multiple-pilot environments and adverse weather, including icing, as well as in other specific conditions.

If the FAA fails to develop and implement those rules by the end of next year, new co-pilots automatically would be required to have 1,500 hours of experience in specific, rigorous conditions.

The families group worked with Schumer as he crafted the compromise that the senator announced last week and that the Senate passed Tuesday.

"It is a tribute to the fortitude, intelligence and persistence of the families that this happened, and I will do everything I can to make sure that we bring the strongest safety measures to the president's desk when this bill passes," Schumer said.

The Senate is expected to pass the full FAA bill within a week. It remains unclear how that measure will be merged with a House FAA-reauthorization bill that passed last year and a separate House aviation bill passed in the wake of the Clarence crash.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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