06.20.22

SCHUMER, GILLIBRAND SOUND ALARM TO FAA ON AIRLINES’ REQUESTS TO CIRCUMVENT PILOT TRAINING REGULATIONS ENACTED FROM THE HARD-FOUGHT ADVOCACY OF THE COLGAN FLIGHT 3407 FAMILIES; SENATORS SAY LIFESAVING RULES MUST BE PROTECTED FROM SPECIAL INTERESTS ATTEMPTING TO ROLLBACK PROVISIONS MEANT TO KEEP SKIES SAFE

Following Tragic 2009 Plane Crash, The Senators Fought Alongside Families Of Flight 3407 Victims To Create Critical Flight Safety Regulations, Including Requirement That Pilots Log 1,500 Flight Hours In Order To Receive Certificate And Pilot Record Database

Since The Rule Was Enacted There Has Not Been A Fatal Crash On A U.S. Airline, But Now Schumer, Gillibrand Say Some Airlines Want To Roll Back Or Eliminate Safety Provisions Needlessly Putting Lives At Risk

Schumer, Gillibrand: Air Safety Provisions Fought For By the Flight 3407 Families Made Our Skies Safer, Any & All Efforts To Claw Them Back Will Be Stopped

Long-time, relentless advocates for air safety standards following the tragic crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 (Flight 3407), U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today demanded that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reject Republic Airways’ request, along with any other request, to scale back the flight-safety regulations fought for by the Flight 3407 families. In a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen, Schumer and Gillibrand said that any exemption or watering down of the 1,500-hour pilot training requirement threatened the safety of our skies and the legacy of the Flight 3407 victims. The senators vowed to stop any efforts by special interests seeking to circumvent these critical flight safety measures.

“Under no circumstances will special interests claw back the 1,500 pilot training requirement the Flight 3407 families and I spent more than a decade fighting to enact – in the memory of their loved ones and to prevent a tragedy like this from occurring ever again. Time and time again, the Flight 3407 families have fought tirelessly to beat back industry’s effort to roll back safety standards; the latest request is alarming and threatens the safety of our skies,” said Senator Schumer. “Since these safety laws were enacted, not a single major U.S. airline has had a fatal crash, and we cannot turn back the clock. I will fight any and all attempts to roll back these critical safety measures to ensure these common sense standards stay in place.”

“After the Flight 3407 tragedy that claimed 50 innocent lives, I fought hard on behalf of the victims’ families to pass legislation to implement strong flight safety regulations,” said Senator Gillibrand. “For years, those regulations have kept Americans safe. We cannot and will not allow them to be weakened and I will keep fighting against any attempts to do so.”  

Schumer and Gillibrand forcefully rejected the claim from special interests that safety standards must be rolled back to increase the pilot workforce, saying that regardless of workforce struggles the solution should never be to diminish safety standards that have saved lives.

In February 2009, the tragic crash of Flight 3407 near Buffalo, New York claimed 50 lives and alerted the nation to the shortfalls in our aviation safety system, particularly at the regional airline level. In the wake of the tragedy, the senators worked with the Western New York delegation and the families who lost loved ones in the crash, to pass the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. This landmark aviation safety legislation addressed many of the factors contributing to the increasing safety gap between regional and mainline carriers by requiring the FAA to develop regulations to improve safety, including enhanced entry-level pilot training and qualification standards, pilot fatigue rules, airline pilot training and safety management programs, and through the creation of an electronic pilot record database.

Notably, the legislation included a mandate that first officers – also known as co-pilots – hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, which requires that the pilot log 1,500 flight hours. First officers were previously required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time. Schumer explained that this rule helps ensure that our nation’s pilots have the best set of skills and knowledge available before getting into the cockpit of a commercial plane. Schumer, Gillibrand said there are exceptions to the 1,500 hour rule, including one for military pilots with experience, but these latest attempts would directly lead to pilots with less flying experience entering the cockpit putting travelers at undue risk. Since the 1,500 hour rule and other regulations have been in place, there have been no airline passenger fatalities on a U.S. domestic carrier, far surpassing the previous longest period without a fatal commercial crash.

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s joint letter to FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Nolen:

Over thirteen years ago, the fatal crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 (Flight 3407) in Clarence, New York, prematurely took fifty precious lives. During more than a decade of relentless advocacy, working side-by-side with the friends and family of the fifty Americans who lost their lives, we successfully secured reforms to make our airlines safer to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again. However, the recent request from Republic Airways (Republic) to be exempt from the 1,500-hour pilot training requirement threatens the safety of our skies and the memory of the Flight 3407 victims. Therefore, we call on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to decline Republic Airways’ request, along with any other request to scale back flight safety measures that we fought so hard to institute.

On February 2, 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published a final report on the Colgan Air Flight 3407 accident, which concluded that the tragedy was attributable largely to pilot inexperience and error. These findings led Congress to craft airline reforms, including the 1,500-hour training requirement for new pilots, designed to prevent future tragedies like Flight 3407. To date, due to the reforms Congress included in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-216), there has not been a single fatal crash on a U.S. carrier. The lives lost on Flight 3407 were not and should not be in vain.

As you are aware, our regional airlines have suffered many challenges associated with the novel pandemic, including workforce challenges. Looking to combat this, on April 15, 2022, Republic formally requested your agency issue an exemption for Republic from the 1,500-hour rule, with a request to allow pilots attending Republic Airways’ flight school, the LIFT Academy, to graduate with only half of the federally-mandated hours. This is not only alarming, but damning to the decade-long fight led by the 3407 families to establish and implement essential safety requirements.

Regardless of the workforce struggles, the solution should never be to rollback protections for our airline travelers. Instead, we urge you to uphold aviation safety reforms, including our 1,500-hour rule in remembrance of Flight 3407, and to work with airlines to address workforce struggles in a safe, common-sense way. We appreciate your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

 

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