Higgins, Slaughter, Collins & Reed Press the FAA to Hold Strong on Pilot Qualification Rules
In a letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta Congressmembers Brian Higgins, Louise Slaughter, Chris Collins and Tom Reed are calling on the FAA to maintain the more rigorous pilot training requirements recently implemented despite pleas by some in the airline industry to relax qualifications.
The Western New York Congressmembers joined with local Flight 3407 families in pressing for reforms following the tragic crash in 2009. New guidelines for pilot qualifications, training and rest requirements were authorized through the Airline Safety and Aviation Extension Act of 2010. However some of the smaller regional airlines are attempting to evade the new rules. Members are seeking to maintain the “one level of safety” standard that guarantees adequate training and rest requirements for all commercial airlines, big and small. Furthermore, the regional airlines seeking exemptions from these important safety rules were the very same airlines which were found to have had the most serious safety deficiencies by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
“We worked too hard and local families lost too much for us to sit back and watch while some in the industry attempt to sidestep the rules,” said Congressman Higgins. “The flying public is safer today thanks to these reforms and we intend to hold them to the law, for the good of all airline passengers.”
“Flight 3407 was a preventable tragedy, and these families fought hard for legislation to improve training standards and prevent future tragedies,” Rep. Slaughter said. “It is disturbing that the FAA is disregarding the law and ignoring the NTSB by allowing industry to create its own loophole to these training requirements.. Every family that puts their lives in the hands of a commercial pilot – regardless of the size of the aircraft – should have the peace of mind that the pilot is properly trained.”
“We will not stand by idly, while airlines attempt to go around the rules and safeguards the families of Flight 3407 advocated to put in place,” said Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27). “We learned a hard lesson in 2009, and have worked tirelessly the past five years to ensure those same mistakes are not repeated. Now is not the time to undo the progress that has been made.”
Congressman Reed added, “The families of Flight 3407 worked tirelessly to prevent other families from losing loved ones. Circumventing new pilot training requirements potentially threatens the safety of passengers. These measures were put in place to protect and care for the flying public – we owe it to every passenger to stand up for these safety standards.”
Below is the text of the letter sent by Congressmembers Higgins, Slaughter, Collins & Reed:
August 5, 2014
The Honorable Michael P. Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Administrator Huerta,
We write today to express our concern regarding the Federal Aviation Administration’s issuance of Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 135 Operating Specifications to a Part 121 airline earlier this year and urge the FAA to refrain from issuing additional Part 135 operating specifications or certificates to FAR Part 121 airlines.
As you know, Colgan Air Flight 3407 tragically crashed in Clarence Center, NY in February 2009, claiming the lives of all those on board and an additional individual on the ground. The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) attributed the crash to pilot error and identified significant problems within the regional airline industry including the use of inexperienced pilots with inadequate training, compounded by the common practice of subjecting crews to exhausting schedules and long commutes.
With persistent advocacy from the Flight 3407 families, the Airline Safety and Aviation Extension Act of 2010 was enacted, and contained many of the critical reforms recommended by the NTSB and other stakeholders.
Among those reforms, were more robust pilot qualification standards for FAR Part 121 operations, including a requirement that the first officer hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, typically attained through 1,500 hours of flight time. This increase from the 250 hours of flight time previously required by the Commercial Pilot License (CPL) represented a key step in restoring the confidence of the flying public in our nation’s aviation system.
The intent of the pilot qualification rule, along with those on training, rest requirements, and recordkeeping was to provide one level of safety across the industry. That is why we were disappointed to learn of actions undertaken by the previously referenced regional airline, with the consent of the FAA, to effectively circumvent the pilot qualification rule and undermine this objective.
As you know, this airline modified their aircraft by removing ten seats, in order to meet the nine-seat entry criteria for 135 operations. The FAA’s subsequent issuance of the 135 certification allows the regional airline to hire co-pilots with as little as 250 hours of flight time.
Given the NTSB’s findings, and the rightful focus on the vulnerabilities of our aviation system as it pertains to regional airlines, we believe that expanding this practice would set a dangerous precedent that would erode hard fought aviation safety reforms. Additionally, it is likely that passengers flying on these flights would be buying these tickets from a major carrier subject to a code share agreement, with no awareness of the significant reduction in entry-level qualifications for the first officer sitting in the cockpit of that flight. Again, that flies in the face of the quest for a true, 'One Level of Safety'.
Furthermore, that many of the airlines being granted or seeking these modifications are part of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, and receive a per-passenger subsidy in exchange for service to small communities, is of additional concern. Such federal funds should not be used to subsidize an operation that is so clearly in conflict with the intent of the aviation safety reforms that were enacted.
Finally, many regional airlines claim that these exemptions are necessary in order to mitigate a “pilot shortage” that has been caused by the new regulations. This assertion ignores the meager salaries, in some cases as little as $16,500 annually, which regional airlines pay newly-hired first-officers – the true culprit of the supposed shortage.
The carefully crafted pilot qualification standards are a critical component towards the achievement of ‘One Level of Safety’ between all major and regional carriers. We urge the FAA to withstand industry pressure and refrain from issuing additional FAR 135 Operating certificates or specifications to regional airlines seeking to evade these important requirements.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Brian Higgins Chris Collins
Member of Congress Member of Congress
Louise M. Slaughter Tom Reed
Member of Congress Member of Congress