WASHINGTON – The Families of Continental Flight 3407 on Friday praised legislation aimed at reforming federal aviation policy because it does nothing to weaken landmark flight safety provisions the families got passed into law six years ago.
The families had feared that the proposed Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill would water down those the tougher safety regulations on pilot experience, training and rest. But instead of tinkering with those provisions, the bill aims to reform the air traffic control system to make the U.S. commercial aviation system more efficient.
“We have the safest system in the world, and we will continue to do so under this bill,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “But our system is incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system.”
The Flight 3407 families praised Shuster and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, the New Jersey Republican who chairs the Aviation Subcommittee, for resisting the airlines’ efforts to water down safety provisions – especially one that requires copilots, just like pilots, to have 1,500 hours of flight experience before they are hired.
The families thanked the two lawmakers “for coming down strongly on the side of the safety of regional airline passengers by not giving in to attempts to roll back these important safety requirements,” said Karen Eckert, who lost her sister, Sept. 11 activist Beverly Eckert, in the Flight 3407 crash.
In fact, the proposed legislation would even give the Flight 3407 families a boost.
The FAA has been slow to create a pilot records database called for in that 2010 aviation safety legislation, but the legislation proposed by Shuster and LoBiondo calls for the database to be implemented within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.
In addition, the bill would require the FAA to establish a panel of safety experts to recommend if anything more can be done to prevent pilots from relying too heavily on automated flight systems – another concern of the Flight 3407 families.
The families lauded both of those moves, but warned that the bill still could be altered through amendments either in committee or on the House floor.
“Any proposed amendments seeking to roll back, water down, or provide any other shortcuts into a regional airline cockpit will be vigorously opposed by us,” said Scott Maurer, who lost his daughter Lorin in the February 2009 crash in Clarence, which claimed 50 lives.
The FAA bill probably won’t pass without a fight, though, given that it proposes to move the flight traffic control system away from the FAA and to a new private, nonprofit entity.
Many nations around the world have established private entities to run air traffic control, and Shuster and LoBiondo said such a system would be more efficient and probably cheaper.
While a major union representing air traffic controllers supports the move, as does the airline industry group Airlines for America, the nation’s largest pilot union opposes it, as does Delta Airlines and the Regional Airline Association.
“This bill places tremendous cost pressure on the regional airline industry while leaving us voiceless in all decisions made under the new air traffic control corporation,” said RAA President Faye Malarkey Black.