Give the opponents of air safety this much credit: They’re persistent. And now they’ve enlisted a seriously big gun in their effort to water down important safety rules implemented in the aftermath of the Flight 3407 tragedy.
But they’re still wrong, even if they have the support of the highest-ranking officer in the Air Force. Gen. David L. Goldfein should know better.
That’s who has joined with the airline industry in opposing flight training regulations that grew out of the deadly 2009 crash in Clarence Center. Fifty people died, including everyone on board the poorly piloted aircraft and one person on the ground.
Years after the crash, with the encouragement of the victims’ survivors, Congress passed sensible new rules on pilot training. Those rules require 1,500 hours of experience before most nonmilitary pilots can be hired by a commercial airline. Military pilots require only 750 hours of experience before they quality for an airline job, and that has Goldfein worried.
Air Force pilots, he says, are being tempted out of the service and into the commercial airline industry because they have a leg up on the competition. For that reason, he wants to water down the requirements that Congress imposed to bolster the safety of the flying public.
To protect the Air Force’s interest, Goldfein wants to endanger the public? No.
If the Air Force is having a problem retaining pilots, it needs to look to change its own structure, not undermine a necessary law that was passed to protect those who must trust their safety – even their lives – to the skill of the pilot in the cockpit. That’s just common sense.
In regional airlines – such as Colgan, the now-defunct airline that was responsible for Flight 3407 – training was found to be inadequate. The pilot of that ill-fated plane, Capt. Marvin Renslow, took the exact wrong action when the plane went into a stall in wintry weather. He had also been violating in-flight protocols related to conversations among crew members.
In response, Congress investigated. It took its time. It considered the issues. And when it finally acted, it imposed training rules that took serious and appropriate account of the deficiencies it identified.
The airline industry and its lackeys – some of them in Congress – hate the training requirements. They want to weaken them rather than find a way to comply. If it put half the effort into adjusting to the new rules as it does in fighting them, everyone would be better off.
Fortunately, two influential New Yorkers in Congress understand Goldfein’s opposition to be the red herring that it is. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., was instrumental in shepherding the new requirements into law. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, was Erie County executive when 3407 crashed, and the disaster occurred in what is now his district. He is properly appalled at Goldfein’s suggestion that the solution to the Air Force’s problem – which we presume to be legitimate – is to endanger the public.
If there is an issue for Congress to consider here, it is in making an Air Force career more attractive to recruits and existing members, not in watering down well-considered air safety rules. Pay, benefits, pensions, advancement, seniority … there are many paths the service can pursue, with or without congressional assistance, to meet its important mission.
Schumer, Collins and others in Congress need to shut this effort down promptly. Help the Air Force as needed, but protect the public.