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Flight 3407 advocates fault FAA over delay; Missed rule deadline renews safety outcry

The Families of Continental Flight 3407 and local lawmakers chided the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday for missing a congressionally mandated Aug. 1 deadline for finalizing new rules aimed at making sure pilots are not too tired to fly.

"Sadly, the FAA has not met that mark on something that will make the schedules of regional airline pilots significantly safer from a fatigue standpoint, and bring us much closer to achieving a true 'One Level of Safety,' " the families said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, called on the FAA to get moving on the pilot fatigue rules.

"There are those who would delay or weaken new safety rules, which is why we must push ahead with strong new rules," Schumer said. "To honor the memory of those that perished in the Flight 3407 tragedy, I am strongly urging the FAA to finalize these rules that will make air travel safer."

The FAA indicated that it was working to complete the fatigue rules as fast as it can, but agency officials offered no specifics on when they might be completed, and would not say why they had been delayed.

"The Federal Aviation Administration is committed to ensuring that airline pilots are fit and rested when they report for duty," the agency said in a statement. "The FAA is working aggressively to complete a new pilot fatigue rule, as well as separate rules that address pilot qualifications and training."

A year ago, the Flight 3407 families pushed to passage the law that requires the new pilot fatigue rules and a host of other aviation safety measures.

The families have been especially focused on the pilot fatigue rules because of indications that the pilots of Continental Connection Flight 3407 may have been too tired to fly on the night of the February 2009 crash in Clarence Center, which claimed 50 lives.

Neither pilot got a full night of bed rest the night before the flight. And the co-pilot commuted to Newark, N.J. -- where Flight 3407 originated -- from her home near Seattle on connecting red-eye flights the night before getting behind the controls of Flight 3407.

The FAA introduced its proposed rules on pilot and crew flight time and duty time last September. They would:
*Ensure that pilots have nine hours of rest prior to duty, up from eight hours.

*Establish a new way of measuring the rest period that would make sure pilots have the opportunity to sleep for eight hours before a flight.

*Guarantee pilots 30 consecutive hours off every week -- a 25 percent increase.

*Set weekly and monthly limits on flight duty time.

*Establish different rest requirements based on factors such as the time of flights and the number of flights a pilot is making in a given day.

Since making that proposal, the agency has been seeking comments from interested parties and working to change the draft rules to reflect that input.

But now is the time for the agency to act, said Susan Bourque, of East Aurora, whose sister Beverly Eckert, a 9/1 1 activist, was killed in the crash.

"We appreciate what the FAA has done, but timing is critical," Bourque said. "Every day that goes by without new rules being issued and, more importantly, effectuated, is a real concern to us -- safety is just too important."

Hochul agreed.

"It's time we start prioritizing the safety of airline passengers and swiftly implement these overdue regulations," said Hochul, whose district includes Clarence, where Flight 3407 plunged into a home in a crash that federal investigators later blamed on pilot error. "The families I represent, who have endured so much, deserve an answer and resolution to this process immediately."

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com