Schumer, Higgins: Possible Parallel Between 2009 Buffalo Crash and Recent Asiana Air Crash Should Lead FAA to Immediately Finalize Pilot Training Regs to Prevent Aerodynamic Stalls and to Propose Tougher International Rules at Upcoming UN Assembly
Jul 10, 2013
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and Congressman Brian Higgins called on the FAA to implement long-delayed aviation safety regulations to improve safety. The regulations on pilot qualifications, crewmember training, and flight simulation training were required after Schumer and Higgins authored legislation in the wake of the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash near Buffalo, NY. These rules would require, for example, that pilots undergo intense training in order to prevent stalls and recover if a stall does occur. After initial evidence suggested that the Asiana Flight that recently crash landed in San Francisco may have been caused by a stall as the plane approached too slowly, the legislators also urged the FAA to propose these new safety guidelines at the upcoming General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations Special Agency.
“While the investigation is still ongoing, one thing is clear – this crash and the other recent crashes like Flight 3407 demonstrate a troubling pattern in which pilots are mishandling air speed, which can lead to fatal stalls. We have new, tighter pilot safety standards that beef up pilot training requirements set to take effect later this year, and we’re asking that these regulations be implemented immediately,” said Schumer. “We’re also asking the FAA to review bilateral agreements and push these standards at the United Nations to ensure American passengers traveling in and out of the country have properly-trained pilots. Simply put: foreign airlines should require their pilots to undergo rigorous training, just as we are now making American pilots do, before flying in the U.S. If not, the FAA should consider limiting that carrier’s ability to fly in and out of the United States.”
“The lessons of Colgan Flight 3407, which was made so clear to all by the inspiring families who pushed for better safety standards, were that these tragedies must not pass with only sympathy and fact-finding,” Schumer continued. “We need to take what we learn and use that to improve pilot training, and crewmember training, and international safety standards.”
“The tragedy of Flight 3407 provided insight into fatal aviation policy shortcomings and prompted needed pressure to transform existing training and safety requirements,” said Congressman Higgins. “Over four years have passed since that crash and, as we tragically saw again last weekend, lives are at stake with each day that passes without these rules in place. We commend the work of Flight 3407 families in getting us to this point but we still have a way to go to see all rules in place and international rules standardized.”
Schumer and Higgins commended the FAA for swiftly putting in place new rules on pilot fatigue and today publishing an important rule on pilot certification, but said American passengers still await the completion of rules that will set new minimum standards on crewmember training, safety management systems, and flight simulation training standards and urged the FAA to expedite the finalization of those rules. One of those rules, the crewmember training standards, is due on October 1st.
In the wake of the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash, Senator Schumer and Congressman Higgins authored legislation that sets industry-wide standards for pilot certification, pilot flight hours, crewmember training and pilot simulation training, among others. The legislation was passed in 2010 and some regulations have taken effect, but still others, including crucial new pilot simulation training standards, are not yet on the books. Schumer and Higgins highlighted that these pilot simulations requirements would include scenarios on aerodynamic stalls and stall recovery. They argued that these regulations should be implemented immediately in light of the recent string of crashes during which pilot error after stalls was a factor: as it was in Colgan Flight 3407, Air France Flight 447, and Asiana Flight 214.
Schumer and Higgins are also asking the FAA, along with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to begin a comprehensive review of bilateral airline safety agreements with foreign countries and assess the broader international aviation safety framework. With the new standards passed in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Extension Act set to take effect, the United States is poised to be a leader in aviation safety. Schumer and Higgins want to make sure that reciprocal agreements with foreign air carriers guarantee that pilots flying into and out of the United States undergo the same training as U.S. pilots. They are asking the FAA and ICAO and other major State aviation authorities to identify and prepare our international aviation partners to bring parity to their training systems and procedures. Schumer and Higgins said that the FAA has the authority to ban international carriers, as it did with Korean Air in 2001, and should exercise that authority if it finds that foreign pilots do not meet U.S. training standards.
Schumer and Higgins have long worked with the families of the victims in the Continental Flight 3407 crash to significantly improve air travel safety in the wake of a crash investigation which determined that shockingly limited flying experience is required to be a co-pilot for a regional carrier. Continental Flight 3407 was flown by a regional carrier, Colgan Air, which is no longer in existence. The crash was caused in part due to a dramatic loss of airspeed and a lack of effective reaction to aerodynamic stall. From the earliest days after the crash, Schumer and the families of the victims worked on legislation to close the gaps in airline safety that allowed this tragedy to occur and create one level of safety for all segments of the industry. Their efforts culminated in the passage of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Extension Act in the summer of 2010, which mandates new safety standards including increased training for pilots and stricter flight and duty time regulations to combat pilot fatigue. This law also requires that online vendors of airline tickets disclose, at first viewing, if the flight is operated by a regional carrier instead of a major carrier.
The standards regulating pilot flight hours have already taken effect, whereas standards for crewmember training, safety management systems, and flight simulation training are on hold until a finalization deadline on October 1st of this year. Schumer and Higgins are pushing for an expedited implementation of these new regulations and a thorough review of bilateral safety agreements to ensure the pilots of international carriers meet U.S. standards.
A copy of Senator Schumer and Congressman Higgins’ letter appears below:
Dear Administrator Huerta,
Unfortunately, we write you today in the harrowing days after the recent San Francisco airport crash of Asiana Flight 214. First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those affected by this horrifying accident. As our congressional delegation knows all too well, these events are all too permanent tests of the strength of the individuals and families affected by this tragedy. We can only hope and pray that they find the strength and collective support to make it through these difficult times ahead.
As you know, this tragic accident is the first commercial crash on American soil since the Colgan Air Flight 3407 accident of February 12, 2009. While it would be irresponsible to pre-judge the causes of this accident before the completion of the on-going National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, we believe the initial facts known about this event – as well as the forthcoming delivery of a comprehensive new set of safety rules in the United States - present an opportunity for the FAA to take a lead role on the world stage by implementing and promoting greater levels of aviation safety and training.
In the months and years after the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash, we worked with our colleagues in the U.S. Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement a single standard of safety across our domestic aviation industry. This has been no small undertaking for all the stakeholders involved. While we commend the FAA for swiftly putting in place new rules on pilot fatigue and today publishing an important rule on pilot certification, American passengers still await the completion of rules that will set new minimum standards on crewmember training (RIN 2120-AJ00), safety management systems (RIN 2120-AJ86), and flight simulation training standards (RIN 2120-AK08). These new rules will dramatically change the framework of aviation safety requirements for domestic carriers and make passengers and flight crews safer. Putting them in place as soon as possible must be a top priority for the FAA.
While we believe these rules can make the U.S. a world leader in aviation safety in the areas of pilot fatigue, pilot certification, and crewmember training, we think that international carriers should also be pushed to adopt a more seamless set of standards. In the case of the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash – and potentially in the Asiana Flight 214 crash – a dramatic loss of airspeed and a lack of effective reaction to aerodynamic stall were factors in the event. This pattern has also presented itself in other crashes over the past decade. Moreover, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations Special Agency for aviation, recently concluded in a 2013 Aviation Safety report that “recurrent simulator training for airline pilots has remained relatively unchanged since the advent of flight simulators.” Therefore, we would urge that the FAA work with ICAO and other major aviation authorities at the upcoming General Assembly meeting to bring parity to the world’s training systems and procedures. We also realize this is not by any means a one-way street: there are likely many effective procedures in place around the world that the U.S. might consider adopting as best practices.
Again, we want to express our deepest gratitude to your agencies and all of the first responders for their hard work and diligence during these trying times. However, we believe it is imperative that we continue to fight on behalf of more rigorous aviation safety protocols and oversight in our country and the rest of the world.
Charles E. Schumer Brian Higgins
U.S. Senator U.S. Representative