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Airline industry should give up efforts to weaken rules keeping the public safe

The airline industry should stop wasting its time and energy trying to figure out ways around hard-won aviation safety regulations and instead figure out ways to make them work.

As a Wall Street Journal report indicated, an industry-government working group has been developing a proposal that would “modestly” weaken the requirement that co-pilots on commercial aircraft generally have 1,500 hours of experience before being hired.

Currently, military pilots with as little as 750 hours of experience are allowed to pursue co-pilot jobs. The working group would reduce that to 500 hours.

Seems airlines, especially the regional ones, are having a hard time attracting and retaining pilots and co-pilots who have the requisite number of flight hours. It’s hard to believe that an industry that charges customers not just for the ticket, but tacks on fees for baggage, seat assignment and even to print out a boarding pass, among other “extras,” cannot figure out how to pay for the pilots flying the planes.

This latest effort tramples on the sacrifice made by the Families of Continental Flight 3407, setting aside their own grief to work to get new pilot rules put in place. It is an insult to the families and the public in general that the industry continues to doggedly pursue ways of watering down new rules.

Flight 3407 crashed in February 2009, claiming the lives of all 49 passengers and crew and a man on the ground. Investigators determined that inexperience contributed to fatal errors by the pilots.

New rules were passed into law as part of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. It included a requirement for 1,500 hours of flying time for first officer certification. It was part of the broader “One Level of Safety” move for both regional and national airlines.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer led the Western New York delegation in pushing for passage of this critical, landmark legislation making air travel safer. In writing a letter to Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, objecting to any changes to the requirements, the senator is once again demonstrating he is willing to fight back against this latest attempt to weaken the rules.

He shouldn’t have to keep grappling with the airline industry. But he will if he has to and so will the 3407 families in an effort to improve safety in the skies.

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