Congress is getting ready to pass tough new aviation safety measures that were developed in response to a deadly commuter plane crash in western New York in early 2009, a key lawmaker said Wednesday.
Democratic Rep. James Oberstar, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview that he expects House passage on Thursday and Senate passage soon afterward.
The impetus for the safety measures was the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. All 49 people aboard and one man in a house were killed. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation faulted errors by the flight’s two pilots and deficiencies in pilot hiring and training by Colgan Air Inc., the regional carrier that operated the flight for Continental Airlines.
The investigation also revealed the accident was the byproduct of a financially strapped industry seeking to cut costs by farming out short-haul flights to regional carriers. Those carriers often hire inexperienced pilots at low wages, assign them exhausting schedules and look the other way when they commute long distances to work because they can’t afford to live in the cities where they are based.
The last six airline accidents in the United States all involved regional air carriers.
The bill would require that the minimum flight experience for first officers be raised from 250 hours to 1,500 hours — the same level as captains. That could force regional airlines to hire more experienced pilots and indirectly raise salaries. FAA would also be required to update rules governing how many hours airlines may require a pilot to fly before the pilot is permitted rest, and airlines would have to put in place fatigue risk management plans — programs that use scientific research on fatigue to assess pilot hours and alert airlines to schedules that are likely to induce fatigue.
Other provisions address pre-employment screening of pilots, create mentoring programs between experienced pilots and newly hired pilots and provide remedial training for pilots who have performed poorly on skills tests.
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