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Flight 3407 families urge retention of pilot training standards

Twenty-five family members of people who died in the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 nearly 10 years ago Monday called for Congress to reauthorize safety standards by passing legislation this week.

The legislation that funds and keeps the Federal Aviation Administration in operation will expire Sunday.

The agency has operated under five short-term extensions since 2015, and Congress must either pass another extension or reauthorize the FAA by Sunday to avert a shutdown.

When the annual authorization legislation comes up, lobbyists for the regional airline industry try to roll back safety provisions that were put in place after the crash of Flight 3407, family members said.

"They do it by pressing Congress to put in amendments that favor them," said Karen Eckert, whose sister, Beverly Eckert, died in the crash. "They use lots of fancy words. But ultimately they have one goal. It is to water down, roll back or weaken the higher experience requirements."

Family members stood with Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, in the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, a few miles from the crash site, to talk about the legislation.

Each said their name and the family member they lost in the crash.

"I come because I really want the changes in the law. I come to support all my 3407 families, and I come because I know my sister herself would be here if it were me," said Ruthann Stilwell of Rochester. Her younger sister, Mary Abraham, died on the flight.

Higgins said there was bipartisan agreement in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate last weekend on a five-year FAA authorization bill that would retain the hard-fought safety standards.

"This is not ideological. This is not left and right," Higgins said. "This is about right and wrong."

Eckert said that in the 20 years before Flight 3407 crashed in 2009, 1,100 people were killed in plane crashes.

The Families of Continental Flight 3407 worked hard to enact safety requirements, which were approved in 2010.

"Since the Airline Safety Act in 2010, there hasn't been one fatality on a U.S. airline crash in the United States," Eckert said.

Before the Flight 3407 crash, pilots with as few as 250 hours of flight time were being qualified to fly commercial airliners. The legislation, among other things, requires pilots and first officers to hold an airline transport pilot certificate, which is typically attained through 1,500 hours of flight-time training.

Higgins said the fact that there has not been a fatality is a "testament that this is working." But, he said, the safety standards are always threatened by the airline industry.

"I'm confident, cautiously so, but we have to remain vigilant. It's never done until it's done," Higgins said of the authorization bill before Congress. "Things can change very quickly, and in the eleventh hour."

He said it is frustrating to continue fighting, but he is inspired by the families.

"They have remained persistent over almost a decade," Higgins said.

He said voting could start in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

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