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Editorial: Preserve flight safety rules

Congress must reauthorize hard-won airline safety standards before legislation that funds the Federal Aviation Administration expires Sunday.

The agency has operated under five short-term extensions since 2015. Congress must either pass another extension or reauthorize the FAA to avoid a shutdown, the latter being preferable with those safety standards in place.

The regional airline industry wants the standards rolled back, arguing that increased training requirements has caused a pilot shortage. There are solutions to that problem found in most free-market enterprises, starting with pay and compensation and including recruitment.

None of the industry’s woes should result in any watering down of safety provisions passed following the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center.

The Airline Safety Act of 2010 requires pilots and first officers to hold an airline transport pilot certificate, typically attained through 1,500 hours of flight-time training. Regional airlines have complained ever since. But consider that prior to the Flight 3407 crash, pilots with as little as 250 hours of flight time were being qualified to fly commercial airliners.

Or, consider the words of Karen Eckert, whose sister, Beverly Eckert, died in the crash: “Since the Airline Safety Act in 2010, there hasn’t been one fatality on a U.S. airline crash in the United States.”

Increased flight time does not eliminate worst-case scenarios but it certainly decreases the chances. The same could be said for surgeons: the more operations, the greater chance for success.

Better training, or at least attention to Flight 3407 pilot Marvin Renslow’s flaws might have mattered.

Renslow failed three “check rides,” besides the one he acknowledged on his application. A review showed he violated flight protocol with non-flight-related chatter when the turboprop plane went into a stall. Investigators said Renslow acted incorrectly by raising the nose of a plane already traveling too slowly which slowed the plane more. The wings lost lift and plunged the aircraft. It is inconceivable that those lessons can be lost.

Family members continue to travel to the capital in an effort to persuade lawmakers to maintain safety standards. They have been supported by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer who was instrumental in shepherding the new requirements into law.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said there was bipartisan agreement in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on a five-year FAA authorization bill that would retain the safety standards.

Maintaining safety in the sky and on the ground should receive full bipartisan support.

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