Commercial pilots to face stricter FAA rules as Flight 3407 families draw praise
WASHINGTON – New commercial airline pilots will need to have far more experience before climbing into the cockpit under a new set of federal rules unveiled Wednesday that won widespread praise from the Families of Continental Flight 3407 and members of Congress.
The new Federal Aviation Administration rules, which stem from a law Congress passed in reaction to the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center in 2009, require many co-pilots to have 1,500 hours of flying experience before being assigned to passenger flights.
Former military pilots and beginning pilots with a college aviation degree won’t need 1,500 hours of flight time, but to become a co-pilot on a commercial airline, they’ll need at least three times the previous minimum of 250 hours of flying experience.
The Flight 3407 families have been fighting for a big increase in pilot experience requirements since shortly after the Clarence crash, which claimed 50 lives, and they were happy to see the FAA finally act.
“This is a huge step in U.S. aviation safety history that will honor our lost loved ones from 3407 and those crashes before and will benefit people all around the world as others look to the U.S. for standards in excellence,” said Scott Maurer, whose daughter, Lorin, was killed in the crash.
The new regulations, which will take effect as soon as they are published in the Federal Register, include:
• A requirement that pilots have a minimum of 1,000 flight hours of experience as co-pilots before becoming the captain of an aircraft.
• A stronger training regimen that pilots and co-pilots will have to follow before getting an air transport pilot certificate, including 1,500 hours of flight experience or its equivalent and 50 hours of experience on a multi-engine plane.
• Exemptions from the 1,500-hour requirement for military pilots with 750 hours of flight time, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in aviation with 1,000 hours of flight time and those with an associate’s degree with an aviation major who have 1,250 hours of flight time.
• A requirement that first officers have an “aircraft type rating,” which involves additional training and testing specific to the type of aircraft they fly.
“The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier,” said FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta. “With this rule and our efforts to address pilot fatigue – both initiatives championed by the families of Colgan Flight 3407 – we’re making a safe system even safer.”
Colgan, a now-defunct regional airline, operated Flight 3407 on behalf of Continental. After Flight 3407 crashed, federal investigators found that a poorly trained captain and an inexperienced first officer made mistakes that caused the crash.
The families of the crash victims quickly banded together to press for a new aviation safety law, which they helped push through Congress in 2010. Since then, they’ve been pushing the FAA to implement the new rules Congress called for under that law.
Wednesday’s announcement of final regulations on pilot qualifications was the second of three big new regulations called for under that law. The FAA finalized new rules aimed at curbing pilot fatigue in 2011, and plans to finish new pilot-training rules by October.
“The other component equally important is the quality of training that first officers and newly hired pilots are going to be required to have, specifically stall training and bad-weather flight training,” said Susan Bourque, whose sister Beverly Eckert, a 9/11 activist, was killed in the crash.
“This has been over four years of very, very hard work, and nobody ever gets everything they want, but we’ve come pretty close and we are grateful,” Bourque said at a news conference in Clarence.
Western New York’s lawmakers agreed – and credited the Flight 3407 families with pressing Congress and the FAA to implement such stringent new pilot requirements.
“Over the past four years, the families who lost loved ones on Flight 3407 have been a constant and powerful force in Congress, working to improve aviation safety standards so others are spared the same loss they have had to endure,” said Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “Their tireless efforts are leading to some of the most significant safety improvements in years.”
Gillibrand and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., pushed strongly for the aviation safety law, as did Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo; Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport; and then-Rep. Chris Lee, R-Amherst. And this year, Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, joined the House and added to the chorus pressing the FAA to implement the pilot experience rules, which had been repeatedly delayed.
“Finally, the FAA has stopped dragging its feet and is moving forward in implementing the new safety regulations championed by Flight 3407 families and passed by Congress back in 2010,” Collins said. “The flying public owes the Flight 3407 families a large debt of gratitude for turning their tremendous loss into a crusade to make sure the flying public is as safe as possible.”
The FAA’s delays in issuing the pilot experience rule stemmed in part from airline industry concerns that a hard-and-fast 1,500-hour flight time requirement for new co-pilots could produce a pilot shortage. The agency’s decision to set lower hours requirements for military- and college-trained pilots shows that those industry concerns were valid, said Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association. Nevertheless, Cohen noted that in anticipation of the tougher experience requirements, more than 8,000 pilots have done what’s needed to get an air transport pilot certificate, which the FAA will now require for first officers as well as captains.
The Flight 3407 families said they will continue pressing for the new pilot-training rules – while acknowledging that their loved ones’ sacrifice is resulting in a safer aviation system.
“It’s been four years in the making and one more hurdle we got over,” said Jennifer West, whose husband, Ernie, was killed in the crash. “They gave their lives, but they are saving so many more lives.”