Most people understand that government works slowly. The structure of our federal government was designed to encourage deliberation and, for the most part, it succeeds wildly at least in terms of the time it takes to get anything done. But 15 years?
That's how long the Department of Transportation has been working on the urgent task of updating flight and duty regulations for pilots. Had it done the work more expeditiously -- say, in just 10 years -- perhaps Flight 3407 wouldn't have crashed in Clarence Center last year.
But since the DOT didn't, and since 50 people lost their lives in the February 2009 crash, shouldn't that light a fire underneath the public servants charged with rewriting rules on pilot fatigue? Yes, it should, but that's not happening, either.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans, alike, are demanding action from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose lame response to their prodding was straight out of the government handbook: "Safety is our number one priority and addressing pilot fatigue is a crucial step toward making our skies safer. This rule is under review and we're working as quickly as possible to put forth a proposal."
Right. The check is in the mail.
LaHood owes Congress -- not to mention the survivors of every victim of Flight 3407 -- a more satisfactory answer than a perfunctory press release that could have been written by any sixth-grader who has an ear for government evasion.
Pilot fatigue wasn't the only cause of the Flight 3407 crash, which occurred when the insufficiently trained pilot took the exact wrong action during a stall, but it was a significant factor. The federal investigation into the crash showed that neither the pilot nor the co-pilot had an appropriate night of rest before the crash, which was blamed mainly on pilot error.
We know government can move faster than this. Sometimes, under extraordinary circumstances, it can move with blazing speed, producing unfortunate and unintended consequences. But 15 years is a long time and, given the disaster that occurred in Clarence Center, 16 months is a long time, too. No one should expect this process to be wrapped up next week, but the flying public has a right to a more aggressive timetable than LaHood appears to have in mind.