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House pushes ahead on air safety provisions

The House on Thursday again approved a bill reauthorizing funding for the Federal Aviation Administration -- this time with a series of key aviation safety measures attached.

The maneuver put together a previously passed FAA bill with a separate measure stemming from the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 that killed 50 people in Clarence Center in February 2009. Combining the two bills positions the safety measures to be included in the final FAA safety bill that merges the House bill with one the Senate approved earlier this week.

While there was no controversy over the safety measures, the vote on the bill was 276-145, as many Republicans complained about various provisions that were not related to safety.

The Republican opposition to the FAA bill -- which sets funding and policy for the agency for the next several years -- signals that the process of merging the House and Senate bills could be difficult and time-consuming.

The most contentious issue is one in the House bill that would make it easier for employees at FedEx to join a union.

That provision is not in the Senate bill, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., briefly placed a hold on the Senate bill in order to strengthen the Senate's hand in negotiations with the House on the issue.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, led the floor debate on the rule governing discussion of the FAA bill, and she stressed the importance of the safety provisions.

"I can think of no better way to mark the lessons we have learned as a nation about flight safety than by honoring the people who died on that cold and snowy night," she said.

Slaughter voted for the merged FAA bill, as did Reps. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, and Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

Most importantly, the House bill would boost the number of flight hours required for newly hired commercial pilots from 250 hours to 1,500. That provision would have to be merged with a Senate proposal to boost the minimum to 800 hours. Otherwise, the safety provisions in the two bills are largely similar.

They also would make it far easier for airlines to see pilots' flight records before they are hired and mandate that travel Web sites identify when a regional carrier is handling a flight for a major airline.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com1

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