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Lawmakers fault transportation chief over pilots

WASHINGTON – Three members of Congress from Western New York this week took Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx to task for saying there’s a pilot shortage – an argument that the airline industry may make to try to cut back on the safety reforms that became law in the wake of the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center.

Fifty people died in that crash, and afterward, the Families of Continental Flight 3407 pressed Congress into requiring that passenger airline pilots have more experience, training and rest.

However, the “flight and duty time” requirements and the experience requirement – that co-pilots, as well as pilots, have 1,500 hours of flight time – have proved to be controversial.

Foxx stoked that controversy at a Feb. 26 budget hearing, where he said: “There are more restrictive flight and duty time regulations and increased training requirements for first officers that went into effect January 2014. Those changes have led to a significant shortage in pilots.”

Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, debunked Foxx in their letter Wednesday, noting that the Government Accountability Office last year found that there is not a pilot shortage, but merely a shortage of pilots willing to work for the meager pay that regional airlines are offering.

“We are afraid your comments could lend credibility to the myth that a pilot shortage exists due to regulations such as the pilot training and qualification rules, and not due to the inadequate wages, which are often as little as $14,000 to $20,000 annually,” the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers told Foxx that they feared his comments would influence the coming debate on a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, where Congress could reconsider some of the safety improvements.

“This is a dangerous position which could undercut significant improvements in aviation safety,” the lawmakers said, suggesting that Foxx reconsider his position.