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Following Tragic 2009 Plane Crash That Claimed Lives of 50 People, Including Many WNYers, Families of Flight 3407 Victims Fought to Create Tough Flight Safety Regulations, Including Requirement That Pilots Log 1,500 Flight Hours In Order To Receive Certificate

More Than 7 Years After Tragedy, Regional Airline Industry Is Pushing Federal Aviation Administration To Reduce The Number of Hours Required For Pilot Qualification Standards – Schumer Says Any Weakening Of Provisions That Make Air Travel Safer Are Non-Starter

Schumer: Families of Flight 3407 Fought Too Hard For Efforts To Be Rolled Back

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today renewed his push to protect the critical aviation safety regulations put in place following the crash of Flight 3407 in 2009. Schumer explained that Flight 3407 crashed in bad weather outside of Buffalo in February 2009, claiming the lives of all 49 passengers and crew, and a man on the ground. After investigators concluded that inexperience contributed to fatal decisions by the pilots, the families of Flight 3407 victims led the charge to mandate better training standards. New rules passed into law in as part of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 included a requirement for 1,500 hours of flying time for a first-officer's certification. This was part of a broader initiative by the families to ensure “One Level of Safety” for both regional and mainline airlines. However, recent efforts by the aviation industry to water down the training requirements ignores the lessons of Flight 3407 and substantially raises the risk of another such disaster. Schumer therefore urged the FAA to reject such a proposal to roll back these life-saving rules.

“After the heart breaking tragedy of Flight 3407, the families of victims came together and advocated for aviation regulations that undoubtedly save lives and keep the traveling public safe. It is unthinkable that some in the aviation industry are pushing the FAA to water down these standards, and it is an affront to the 3407 families’ efforts over the last seven years,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I am renewing my push to ensure the FAA maintains its current safety rules and make sure travelers can expect a safe journey, regardless of the size of the airline. It is a matter of public safety and doing right by the families of Flight 3407 victims.”

The tragic February 2009 crash of Continental 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. Continental Flight 3407 was flown by a regional carrier, Colgan Air, which is no longer in existence. In the wake of the tragedy, Schumer and the Western New York delegation worked together with 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 sought to address 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.

This legislation established a number of mechanisms for increasing aviation safety in an effort to achieve a true “One Level of Safety” between our nation’s regional and mainline carriers. In particular, this 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. Previously, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time. Schumer explained that this rule helps ensure our nation’s pilots have the best set of skills and knowledge available before getting into the cockpit of a commercial plane. Schumer said there are exceptions to the 1,500 hour rule, including one for military pilots with fewer piloting hours, but some in the aviation industry would like to water down these rules even further to make it easier to hire pilots with less flying experience. Schumer said that the families of Flight 3407 fought too hard for the pilot training rule, for their successful efforts to be thwarted, and under no circumstances should we weaken the standards surrounding pilot qualifications.

Schumer said the 3407 families’ efforts also led to the passage of the law that mandates stricter flight and duty time regulations to combat pilot fatigue. These new pilot fatigue rules incorporate the latest fatigue science to set requirements based on the time of day pilots begin their first flight, the number of flight segments, and the number of time zones they cross. Under these pilot fatigue rules, the FAA now sets limits on flight time to eight or nine hours, depending on the start time of the pilot’s entire flight duty period, and sets a 10-hour minimum rest period, mandating that the pilot have an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep within that period. These FAA rules also address potential cumulative fatigue by requiring that pilots have at least 30 consecutive hours free from duty on a weekly basis. Schumer said that rolling back any of these critical safety enhancements would be unacceptable.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the FAA appears below:

Dear Administrator Huerta:

I write to express my concern with the recommendations of the Air Carrier Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee’s Education, Training and Experience Alternatives for an ATP Workgroup, as outlined in a recent media report. I urge you to continue to demonstrate your strong commitment to aviation safety by resisting any attempts to undermine the pilot qualification rule for first officers.

As you know, Colgan Flight 3407 tragically crashed in Clarence Center, New York in February 2009, claiming the lives of all 49 on board and an additional individual on the ground. After dedicated advocacy from the families of those lost, Congress enacted sweeping aviation reforms designed to achieve One Level of Safety between regional and mainline carriers. Some regional carriers have attempted to water down these safety improvements in recent years, and have pushed proposals to reduce the number of hours required for a first officer to attain an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, typically achieved through 1,500 hours of flight time.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, members of industry are attempting to undermine these important safety rules through the working group’s recommendations to the FAA. The article states, “U.S. airlines would be able to hire new pilots with far less cockpit experience than currently required under a proposal aimed at addressing a staffing shortage…” I understand that the FAA is currently reviewing these recommendations; I urge you to categorically reject any recommendations that would undermine the pilot qualification rules for first officers. Any attempt to weaken or create a loophole in the requirements would be an affront both to aviation safety, the flying public and to the families affected by the Flight 3407 crash.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important issue. The pilot qualification standards are a critical component in moving toward One Level of Safety between regional and mainline carriers, and should not be weakened in any way. I look forward to continuing to work with you to improve aviation safety.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator