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FAA nominee draws senators' ire over delay on pilot training rules

Key senators Thursday lambasted President Obama's nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration for the agency's delay in implementing tougher pilot training rules in the wake of the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407.

Noting that the new pilot training rules enacted in 2011 have been delayed until 2013 -- and that it would take five years more to implement them -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, sharply questioned Michael P. Huerta, the acting FAA administrator who has been nominated to head the agency on a full-time basis.

"There is nothing in me that understands why this is taking so long," Rockefeller said.

Huerta contended that the delays are a natural byproduct of pilot training rules that are hugely complex and that have drawn a huge number of comments from interested parties.

"We have to go through a large number of comments so we can develop a rule that will stand the test of time and deliver on the benefits we want," Huerta said. "People are working very hard in getting it done, but we have a lot of comments. It's a complicated rule."

While saying he supported Huerta's nomination -- which is expected to be approved shortly -- Rockefeller did not exactly appreciate what Huerta had to say.

"Don't talk to me about lots of comments or that it's a complicated process," he said. "Everything is that around here."

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., seemed only slightly less frustrated.

"We want to implement the right rules," she said, "but 2013 is a long time."

The long dialogue about the pilot training rules pleased several members of the Families of Continental Flight 3407, who attended Huerta's confirmation hearing.

"I'm very pleased," said Scott Maurer, whose daughter, Lorin, was killed in the crash. "I want [the pilot training rules] done."

The families were less than pleased, though, at Huerta's comments.

"He never offered an explanation as to why the training rule is taking so long," said Susan Bourque, whose sister Beverly Eckert, a 9/1 1 activist, was killed in the Flight 3407 crash.

Drawn up in response to the February 2009 crash in Clarence Center that claimed 50 lives -- and that federal investigators blamed on pilot error -- the proposed new training rules would require pilots to learn, in simulators, how to handle the kind of stall that brought down Flight 3407.