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Editorial: NTSB nominee's dangerous notion on pilot training

As President Trump’s nominee to be the vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Bruce Landsberg has a particular challenge in not allowing his preconceived notions about increased pilot training hours to cloud his judgment.

This hard-fought pilot experience requirement came out of the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center that claimed 50 lives. In a 2010 blog post, Landsberg said there was “no factual support” for the 1,500-hour requirement, adding that both the pilot and first officer of Flight 3407 had far more hours of flight experience.

A couple of years later he blogged that the pilot experience requirement is “a non-issue.”

The crash was caused by pilot error, and more experience reduces the chances for disaster. The question Landsberg must answer is simple: When flying on a commercial airliner, are you comfortable with your pilot having more, or fewer training hours?

Better yet, take into account the words of Miracle on the Hudson pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III in testimony before the Senate a couple of years ago: “With a 1,500-hour standard, employers are able to know more about new pilots, able to have more people screening and observing them over a longer period of time, and able to make a more informed decision about whether they have proven themselves worthy of the public’s trust.”

Landsberg and the Regional Airline Association say the pilot training hours could cause pilot shortages at the smaller carriers. There are a number of reasons regional airlines have trouble hiring enough pilots, from the fact that there are more flights, to impending pilot retirements, to low pay by regional airlines and overall disinterest by younger people to go into the challenging profession.

To be sure, the federal legislation mandating 1,500 hours of flight time probably does complicate the matter. But rather than reducing safety, airlines need to increase the supply of pilots by paying more and recruiting more aggressively.
The NTSB decided years ago that 1,500 hours of flight time for pilots would improve safety. Landsberg needs to accept that conclusion.

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