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Higgins Pushes Back on Transportation Secretary’s Comments on Pilot Training

Jun 7, 2018
Press Release

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) released the following statement in response to remarks made today by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao:

“Secretary Chao’s comments today ignore the verifiable fact that trained pilots save lives.  The families of Flight 3407 have fought for years to ensure that these important flight safety measures were enacted and preserved, saving others from the same tragedy their families endured and leading to safer skies for everyone. 

“Ask passengers boarding an airplane who is willing to settle for a pilot that is less trained and I don’t believe one flyer would volunteer to make that sacrifice.  With Flight 3407, Captain Sully’s Miracle on the Hudson, and the most recent Southwest incident, history shows us again and again that training and experience matter.  

“Congress has already had discussion on this, held numerous hearings and taken action. A compromise on flight safety is a compromise on human life, a concession we must not be willing to make.”

Secretary Chao’s comments: (Start video at 10:00 minutes)

During a conversation with the Washington Post on June 7, 2018, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao criticized the pilot training requirement,

“There is a 1,500 hour rule which came about because of the tragic accident in upstate New York and it was a tragedy of a commuter aircraft that resulted in fatality.  So our hearts go out to the families and the relatives of the people who have been lost.  But it was because of that, that it was thought that not enough hours were accumulated by these commuter aircraft airline pilots. And so the requirement for the hours required to fly certain types of aircraft was increased.  But that has actually made it so much harder, for so many other experienced veterans in flying to enter this field.  This is obviously a very sensitive subject, and until the Congress advises us otherwise, it’s very hard for us to do anything on that obviously because we have to comply with the rules and regulation and the law.

The Washington Post reporter Robert Costa:

“Just to be clear, would you be open to seeing that number drop below 1,500 at some point after discussions?’

Secretary Chao:

“You know, I think there needs to be a robust discussion, because obviously we hold the memories of those who are lost in our hearts, and we don’t ever want to see an accident like that again or any accident ever occur.  But there is this side effect, unanticipated, corollary impact of reducing the number of pilots, pilots who can very safely fly in our sky.  So I think Congress needs to have this discussion and we will abide by the wishes of Congress.   

Additional Background:   

Thanks to the persistence of the families of Flight 3407, in 2010 Congress approved the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act.  Prior to the Flight 3407 tragedy, pilots with as few as 250 hours of flight time were being qualified to fly commercial airliners.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in their review of the incident, identified serious safety deficiencies within the regional airline industry, including exhausting schedules, inexperienced pilots and insufficient training. Comprehensive FAA Reauthorization legislation put new rules in place to prevent fatigue and implement new training standards including instruction on the prevention of aircraft stalls and the pilot qualification rule, which requires pilots to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, typically attained through 1,500 hours of flight time.

In April, Higgins spoke on the House Floor citing the importance of pilot training standards, referencing the recent Southwest Airlines emergency landing led by well-trained pilots.