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Regional airlines need to adjust to new pilot training rules, not weaken them

The government does not have to drop down the requirements in order to lure qualified pilots to work for regional airlines.

Just pay the pilots more money. Simple. It will cost more in ticket prices but properly trained pilots are well worth the price.

In what has become annoyingly predictable, the airline industry is continuing to fight back against rules intended to promote a culture of safety within the industry. Its leaders should start worrying less about implementing these important rules and more about ensuring safe travel for its passengers.

Regional airlines are getting ready to ask the government to loosen hard-fought 2013 pilot safety restrictions. They insist that the rules have unnecessarily caused a shortage of qualified flight crews.

One of the main points of contention in the industry is the newly required 1,500 hours of flight time, cited by the Regional Airline Association, its Washington trade group. It says that’s too much for its members.

This area is well acquainted with the consequences of pilot error. On Feb. 12, 2009, Capt. Marvin D. Renslow’s fatal mistake took the lives of all 49 people aboard Colgan Air Flight 3407 and one person on the ground when it crashed in Clarence Center. Both Colgan pilots may have had more than 1,500 hours, as the airlines argue, but that line of logic dismisses the overall point. Not all pilots, especially regional ones, have that number of hours and, in Renslow’s case, he had failed three federal flying tests before he was hired.

Regulations now allow pilots to qualify for the airlines with fewer hours following academic or military aviation training, and the association would rather have the option to hire pilots with less experience if they complete specialized training focusing on high-performance aircraft and airline operations, according to a draft of the group’s proposal that was provided to Bloomberg News.

The group agrees that first officers should be more experienced. But it disagrees that hours of training can be used “as a metric for experience,” according to Malarkey Black, president of the association. It may not be the only one, but it is plainly a useful way to promote air safety.

The group is finalizing the changes it wants, first reported by the Wall Street Journal. So far, the changes sound unacceptable and should be dismissed when they eventually go before the Federal Aviation Administration.

The struggle to get new regulations in place was monumental and involved the absolute selfless dedication of the crash victim families, along with the tireless work by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who spearheaded the political effort, in addition to Reps. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. Schumer has pledged to fight the regional airlines’ effort “tooth and nail.” As he said, families of Flight 3407 have fought “too hard to get this to lose it because some airlines don’t want to keep maximum safety. I will raise a ruckus if they even try.”