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Editorial: Airline industry needs to quit trying to weaken safety rules

It seems as though common sense, and even sanity, may prevail once again. Isn’t it time for the airline industry and its congressional enablers to accept that Americans want to know they are safe when they trust their lives to the crew in the cockpit?

It’s true that air travel is the safest it has ever been. Crashes are few and far between. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been gaps in the system. One such breach was tragically exposed eight years ago when Continental Flight 3407 plunged into a home in Clarence Center, killing everyone on board and one occupant of the house.

Because of the commitment of the Families of Continental Flight 3407, Congress passed legislation requiring more and better pilot training. From that moment, the industry and a few elected lackeys have worked to undermine those requirements.

It’s been a fool’s errand. What they should have been doing is adapting to the rules and then bragging to customers that air travel in America is even safer: Your pilot is now unlikely to do the exact wrong thing while flying through bad weather, sending your plane hurtling to Earth. Do they think anyone would care if a ticket cost a few dollars more?

The industry’s most recent maneuver has been to push a Senate bill that would have made it easier for new pilots to fly commercial aircraft. The excuse, offered by its sponsor, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is that the industry is suffering a pilot shortage. “I think we need to find a way of addressing it,” said Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

If it’s true, he’s right. It does need to be solved. But why do it by threatening air safety and Americans’ confidence in it? Take other steps. Regional air carriers – such as the one that flew the plane that crashed in Clarence Center – could try sweetening pay and benefits and, if necessary, making up for it by raising fares enough to cover the cost.

Fortunately, the industry’s effort appears to be going nowhere. That is thanks to the work of the Families of Flight 3407; Reps. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport; both of New York’s senators, and, perhaps most significantly, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero pilot of the “Miracle on the Hudson”crash, who pressured senators to listen to pilots rather than executives.

It’s time to call an end to this nonsense. Live with the new rules. They are reasonable, manageable and necessary. Stop playing with the safety of the flying public.

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