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3407 families push transportation secretary for pilot database

WASHINGTON – The Families of Continental Flight 3407 returned to the nation’s capital Wednesday to meet with the new secretary of transportation – and to begin a new push for a pilot records database to prevent the hiring of incompetent pilots like the one who crashed Flight 3407 into a home in Clarence Center in 2009.

A 21-member-strong contingent of family members met with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx for more than a half hour.

They won a commitment from Foxx that new pilot-training rules will be completed this fall – which, the families said, will allow them to move on to their next goal: the pilot records database.

“We’re bringing this to the surface because it’s one of the things in the law that didn’t have a target date,” said Scott Maurer, whose daughter, Lorin, was among the 50 people who died in the Flight 3407 crash. “And it’s something we’re going to stand fast on.”

The aviation safety law that the families pushed to passage in Congress in 2010 calls for the creation of the pilot records database, which would compile everything about every pilot’s flying record in one place. But the law doesn’t give the Federal Aviation Administration a deadline for compiling the database.

The families said it’s important that they make the database their next crusade, now that most of the major aviation safety regulations stemming from the law are in place or about to be finalized.

The FAA announced earlier this year it would start the database process by working on regulations necessary to set it up. It now plans to draw up a preliminary plan for the database by the end of January 2015.

After that, a public comment period would follow, meaning the final regulations setting up the database would not be completed until much later in 2015 or the following year.

The airline industry and pilot unions may resist the creation of the database because it presumably would make every blemish on every pilot’s record available to every airline, thereby complicating the hiring process.

But the families said the database is a necessity for one clear reason: At the 2009 National Transportation Safety Board hearings into the Flight 3407 crash, the president of Colgan Air, the regional airline that ran that flight, said the airline would not have hired pilot Marvin Renslow if it had known he had failed test flights in his past.

But Renslow was hired – and the safety board found that he incorrectly responded to a stall warning, causing the crash.

John Kausner, of Clarence, who lost his daughter Ellyce in the crash, said the families want to make sure pilots such as Renslow don’t get jobs.

“If you have a DUI, you don’t get a job driving a school bus,” Kausner said. “We think it should be the same with pilots” who have blemishes on their flying record.

Beyond raising the issue of the database with Foxx, the family members also asked him to hold firm to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta’s commitment to complete new pilot-training rules, also part of the 2010 aviation safety law.

“I told the families that safety is my top priority and that I shared Administrator Huerta’s commitment to completing the pilot-training rule-making by October,” Foxx said after the meeting.

Foxx recently succeeded Ray LaHood as transportation secretary.

“It was important to me to meet with the Flight 3407 families within my first 30 days in office,” Fox said.It was important to the families, too, to meet with Foxx, said Kevin Kuwik, one of the leaders of the families group.

“We just wanted to show that this is much more than just a few of us, that we represent a large number of the families affected,” Kuwik said.