U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced essential aviation safety regulations put in place after the disastrous crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407, which cost the lives of 49 passengers and one person on the ground in 2009, are protected in the initial Senate FAA re-authorization bill. However, the bill is only the first step in the FAA reauthorization process and is still subject to amendment at both the committee level and on the Senate floor and so the senators vowed continue to fight to protect these important rules throughout the process, and oppose any efforts by special interests to water down these important safety standards.
“We must remain constantly vigilant in our efforts to protect the aviation safety improvements secured by flight 3407 families. To put it simply, these federal regulations save lives and should remain in place,” said Senator Schumer. “Time after time, the 3407 family members work tirelessly to beat back industry’s effort to roll back safety standards because travelers should never be more in harm’s way or fly in less capable hands simply because they took a regional carrier. Yet, no matter how much progress we’ve made, some special interests still attempt to roll back these critical safety measures. That is why I am going to keep fighting along with Senator Gillibrand and the entire Western New York delegation to ensure these standards stay in place.”
“I will do everything I can to prevent the roll back the hard-fought reforms we passed in 2010 to establish new safety regulations for regional airlines,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It would be reckless and irresponsible for us to turn our backs on the families who fought so hard after the Colgan Air Flight 3407 tragedy to make sure all commercial pilots and co-pilots are properly trained, qualified, and rested when flying the public. I will continue to work hand-in-hand with Senator Schumer and our colleagues to ensure that we maintain one level of safety for all passengers and crews.”
Schumer and Gillibrand roundly rejected the notion being pushed by the airline industry that safety standards must be watered down or rolled back to maintain a stable commercial pilot workforce. The Senators reaffirmed their commitment to ensure that aviation safety regulations, including rules on pilot training and fatigue, are not rolled back or watered downthrough amendments to the FAA bill either in committee or on the Senate floor. Schumer and Gillibrand sent a letter to U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation urging them to ensure that any re-authorization of the FAA charter does not include a weakening or elimination of provisions that have protected travelers across New York and the United States.
They highlighted the fact that the commercial airline industry has made billions of dollars for the past 16 consecutive quarters while keeping regional airline pilot compensation low. For example, first officers may earn as little as $20,000 per year, with the industry average being $44,000 per year. Even if there was truly a shortage of pilots, the simplest and safest solution would be for regional airlines to increase both compensation and support for pilots – not roll back safety provisions.
The tragic February 2009 crash of Continental Flight 3407 near Buffalo, New York, claimed 50 lives and alerted the nation to the shortfalls in our aviation safety system, particularly at the regional airline level. In the wake of the tragedy, Schumer and the Western New York delegation worked together with the families of those lost in the crash to pass the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. This landmark aviation safety legislation addressed many of the factors contributing to the increasing safety gap between regional and mainline carriers by requiring the FAA to develop regulations to improve safety, including enhanced entry-level pilot training and qualification standards, pilot fatigue rules, airline pilot training and safety management programs, and through the creation of an electronic pilot record database. Since these regulations have been in place, there have been no airline passenger fatalities on a U.S. domestic carrier, far surpassing the previous longest period without a fatal commercial crash.
The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 established a number of mechanisms for increasing aviation safety in an effort to achieve a true “One Level of Safety” between our nation’s regional and mainline carriers. In particular, this legislation included a mandate that first officers – also known as co-pilots – hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, which requires that the pilot log 1,500 flight hours. First officers were previously required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time. Schumer explained that this rule helps ensure that our nation’s pilots have the best set of skills and knowledge available before getting into the cockpit of a commercial plane. Schumer, Gillibrand said there are exceptions to the 1,500 hour rule, including one for military pilots, but some in the aviation industry would like to water down these rules even further to make it easier to hire any pilot with less flying experience. Schumer and Gillibrand said that the families of Flight 3407 fought too hard for the pilot training rule for their successful efforts to be thwarted, and under no circumstances should we weaken the standards surrounding pilot qualifications.
Schumer and Gillibrand said the efforts of Flight 3407 families’ also led to the passage of the law mandating stricter flight and duty time regulations to combat pilot fatigue. These new rules incorporate the latest fatigue science to set requirements based on the time of day pilots begin their first flight, the number of flight segments, and the number of time zones they cross. Under these pilot fatigue rules, the FAA now sets limits on flight time to eight or nine hours, depending on the start time of the pilot’s entire flight duty period, and sets a 10-hour minimum rest period, mandating that the pilot have an opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep within that period. These FAA rules also address potential cumulative fatigue by requiring that pilots have at least 30 consecutive hours free from duty on a weekly basis. Schumer and Gillibrand said that rolling back any of these critical safety enhancements would be unacceptable.
A copy of the Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter appears below:
Dear Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson,
We write to express our strong support for the current pilot and first officer training and qualification requirements for Part 121 airline pilots, and oppose the inclusion of any change that would reduce those requirements in the next Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill.
In February, 2009, Colgan Air flight 3407 crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York, killing all 49 passengers and crew onboard, as well as one person on the ground, and alerted the nation to shortfalls in our aviation safety system, particularly at the regional airline level. In the wake of this horrific tragedy and following subsequent investigation by the National Transportation Safety Bureau and numerous congressional hearings, Congress passed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. This law required the FAA to issue new safety regulations governing pilot fatigue, training and minimum qualifications, including duty time and rest requirements and a requirement that all prospective commercial pilots have 1,500 hours of flight time before receiving an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate. Since these regulations have been in place, 3,050 days have passed without a fatal crash on a U.S. domestic carrier. Prior to that, the previous longest period without a fatal commercial crash was 900 days.
We are concerned that the airline industry is now falsely claiming that in order to maintain a stable commercial pilot workforce, some of the most effective safety standards, including the requirement that commercial co-pilots have 1,500 flight hours of total time as a pilot before being certified, must be watered down or rolled back. We believe that is a false choice that will severely jeopardize the safety of the flying public. Experts across the country, including Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger of ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’ perhaps the greatest example of how lives can be saved when pilots are properly trained, has cited the important lessons learned from Colgan Air flight 3407 and urged Congress not to allow these critical safety rules to be weakened.
As the airline industry points to an unstable commercial pilot workforce, the commercial airline industry has reported an after-tax net profit for the past 16 consecutive quarters, including a net profit of $1.9 billion for the first quarter of 2017, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Yet despite these massive profits, regional airline pilot compensation remains remarkably low — first officers earning as little as $20,000 with an average of $44,000 per year. While we reject whole heartedly the notion that there is a shortage of pilots, even if there is, the simplest and safest solution would be for regional airlines to increase compensation and support for pilots, not water down safety standards and create a race to the bottom for pilot qualifications.
Congress did the right thing for the safety of the flying public by establishing one level of safety for all passengers and crews in 2010. We cannot now turn our backs on those who fought so hard to ensure that no other families would have to go through the horror endured due to inadequately trained, fatigued, and underqualified pilots. We strongly urge you to continue to bolster its Colgan Air flight 3407 regulations and reject any changes that would scale back or eliminate the 1,500 hour, pilot fatigue, and pilot training regulations in the FAA reauthorization bill.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
United States Senator