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Editorial: Senate needs to head off latest effort to weaken flight safety rules

It is safe to assume that Sen. John Thune of South Dakota has taken more than a few flights in his day. So it escapes us why the senator is using his formidable political powers to help weaken pilot training rules that keep the flying public safe.

Thune has concocted a scheme whose details even he has difficulty explaining: “basically allows for structured or disciplined instruction, and it sort of fits within the context of what we already allow for – academic training, military training qualifies for the 1,500 hours.”

Thune is chairman of the Senate committee that oversees airline legislation, which just approved his amendment to water down the hard-fought rule requiring 1,500 hours of flight experience prior to flying a commercial airliner.

Most people would prefer their pilots have as much training as possible. The senator and an Air Force general worried about losing pilots to commercial airlines are advocating for fewer training hours or, as Thune would like the public to believe, training equal to the 1,500 hours, but calculated in a different way.

The public should not buy what these men are selling. Instead, stand with Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot of the USAirways plane that successfully crash-landed in the Hudson River in 2009, and his colleagues who “strongly back the aviation safety law.” As News Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski recently wrote, Skiles stood “side by side with the families at a press conference on Tuesday.”

Those would be the Families of Flight 3407 who lost loved ones when pilot error caused the crash in Clarence that killed 50, including one man on the ground.

It is amazing that the fight for proper pilot training, a minimum of 1,500 flight hours, has encountered such resistance. The Senate needs to put a stop to this latest attempt to reduce safety in the air, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., vows to do just that.

As for any pilot shortage, pay more money, enhance the benefits. Compete in the free market by incentivizing workers, not by cutting corners and settling on acceptable risk.

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