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New pilot fatigue rules pushed, FAA chief says

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration told House members from Western New York on Wednesday that the agency is pressing forward on new rules governing pilot fatigue in response to the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center in February 2009.

Randy Babbitt, the FAA administrator, said after the meeting that the agency was nearly a month early in finishing its proposal for new rules on how much pilots can fly and how much rest they need.

The proposal is now in an executive review in which approval is needed from officials at the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget.

"We've asked for this process to be expedited, and I'm optimistic that we'll still have it [completed] in the spring," although it is possible the review could take as long as six months, Babbitt said.

Babbitt offered a preview of the proposal to the lawmakers at the meeting, and Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, was impressed.

"The nice thing here is, there's some substance to the fatigue rules," Lee said. "They've done some meaningful work with them."

The new rules would, for the first time, take into account scientific research on sleep and how much rest pilots need to perform at a top level.

The lawmakers pressed Babbitt on other issues, however. Most notably, they noted that the National Transportation Safety Board had made 25 recommendations in the wake of the Clarence Center crash and wondered why the FAA had not implemented them.

"The way it looks to the outside is not exactly confidence-inspiring," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. "Here you have the NTSB making recommendations that are not being embraced by the FAA. What is the public left to conclude?"

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, also attended the meeting.

"It was interesting to hear the perspectives of the congressional delegation," said Karen Eckert, whose sister Beverly Eckert was one of the 50 people killed in the crash. "All three were really holding [Babbitt's] feet to the fire."

In another development Wednesday related to Flight 3407, the House Rules Committee, whose chairwoman is Slaughter, combined the House version of the FAA reauthorization bill with an air safety bill the House passed separately. The full House is expected to approve the combined measure today.

The two bills were combined to make it easier for a conference committee to reconcile the House legislation with the version of the bill the Senate approved Monday, congressional aides said.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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