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Big win for Flight 3407 families; Formed out of tragedy, group helped pass new rules to make air travel safer

The skies will finally be safer for air travelers, thanks to the unselfish and dedicated work by the Families of Continental Flight 3407.

These loved ones of victims of the February 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence, which claimed 50 lives, put aside their own wrenching pain in order to fight to improve the safety of the flying public.

As a result of their efforts, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued new regulations designed to prevent airline pilots from flying while dangerously fatigued. The rules, which take effect in two years, will cost passenger airlines $297 million over 10 years. Balance that against the benefits: The FAA estimates the rules will prevent 1.5 fatal plane crashes and a total of 60 deaths over that time span.

It is unfortunate that cargo airlines were exempted from the new regulations after hard lobbying by that industry. The Coalition of Airline Pilots Association has long held that there should be one level of safety for both passenger and cargo pilots.

But getting the rules to apply to passenger airlines wasn't easy, and is a huge victory.

Advocates had been pushing new rules on pilot fatigue for more than two decades, but the catalyst was the tragedy in Clarence nearly three years ago.

The pilots on Flight 3407 weren't rested. Neither had had a full night of sleep and the co-pilot had flown on a red-eye flight from her Seattle home to her job in Newark, where 3407 originated. Although federal investigators blamed pilot error, lack of sleep understandably became one of the central targets for families.

The new rules set limits on the length of a pilot's shift and require longer rest periods. Pilots and airlines would both share responsibility for ensuring that pilots are fit for duty. Pilots will have to sign a statement saying they are fit for duty before each flight. If they are not, the airline must remove them from the flight.

Long overdue change has come, and the Families of Flight 3407 should be proud of their accomplishment.

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