Chaired By: Senator Byron L. Dorgan
Witnesses: Jim May, President and Chief Executive Officer, Air Transport Association of America; Captain John Prater, President, Airline Pilots Association International; Scott Maurer, Rep. of the Families of Continental Flight 3407; Roger Cohen, President, Regional Airline Association
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SEN. DORGAN: We'll call the hearing to order. This is the hearing of the Subcommittee -- the Senate Commerce Committee -- the Subcommittee in Aviation. Want to thank all of you for joining us today to talk about the importance of the issue of aviation safety. This is the second hearing that we have held this month to discuss the subject of aviation safety with a particular focus on the safety of regional carriers.
In this hearing we will receive testimony from representatives of the nation's network carriers and regional carriers from the Air Transport Association and from the Regional Airline Association respectively. We'll also hear from the Airline Pilots Association and from Mr. Scott Maurer representing the families of Continental Flight 3407, which crashed on February 12th of this year in New York.
I do want to say as well as we start this hearing that I had intended and wished to have representatives of the carriers themselves at a hearing, and so we did not accomplish that today. I'm not minimizing at all the representatives of the two -- the ATA and the RAA, but I will wish to extend invitation and have representatives of the airlines themselves in here within the next month or so. It is important, I think, that they would accept an invitation to come, and so I will extend those invitations again.
In this country I think it is safe to say that we have a remarkably safe system of air travel. It's not my intention with hearings about aviation safety to alarm anyone about taking a flight on a regional carrier or a network carrier. We operate aircrafts all across this country every day and provide critical air service to many people who would not otherwise have that kind of transportation service, or that kind of option. But we do have a responsibility it seems to me to ask questions and to get answers to the questions of do we have one level of safety? Do we have one standard of safety that now exists, or have we drifted some?
If the traveling public ever has doubts about the consistency of safety in our air space system or within airline travel, the airline industry inevitably will suffer. So we have to move together to make certain that people have no reason to question the oversight or the application of aviation safety across the country.
I've said before that I've read extensively about the most recent crash that occurred in our country, the crash by Colgan Air in Buffalo, New York. Frankly, a number of things happened on that flight that caused me great, great concern. There were a number of mistakes that occurred, a number of things that to me were revelations that were quite stunning and led me to question -- is this -- was it an aberration? Was it something that happened only in the cockpit of this one plane, or is there something else at work? Is there a set of standards that is applied one way in one set of carriers and another way in another set of carriers? I don't know the answer to that, but I think it is important that we ask those questions.
The plane that crashed in New York was a Barbardier-8 Q-400 operated by a captain and a copilot who had commuted -- both commuted long distances to get to work, were found to have had reasonably little rest before the flight. The copilot raised issues in the transcript that I read of the conversation in the cockpit of her inexperience with icing conditions. They clearly that evening were flying in significant icings. The captain had failed a number of flight tests during his career, which the carrier themselves were unaware of and did not have information about.
We're going to hear from those that are investigating this. The NTSB I know is doing substantial investigations. But the larger question for me here is what about the airlines and the FAA's ability to prevent a double standard, or two different standards of experience in the cockpit? What about the enforcement of rules with respect to familiarity with certain kinds of conditions, familiarity with equipment?
We are supposed to have -- dating back to the mid 1990s -- "one level of safety -- quote, unquote -- for both regional and major carriers." And I want to hear from our witnesses today, whether you think that is actually the case, whether the system has kept up with changes, or whether there have been changes that have occurred that have drifted us away from one standard.
I'm particularly concerned from some of the things I've learned in the last hearing, for example, that a carrier does not easily have full access to the records of pilots they are considering hiring. I'm talking about all of the records. They have access to the records of everything that has occurred with respect to an airplane. An airplane that comes off the line and is put in service -- everything that happens to that particular airplane is a matter of record that anyone can access, and that is not the case with respect to the record of the pilot or the people in the cockpit.
I think that there is some reason to be encouraged by what the new administrator, Randy Babbitt, has done. He called for a meeting Monday of this week, which reflects a concern that -- he wants to understand these things quickly and take whatever action is necessary. It is also the case that he indicated that two years after the NTSB suggested a rule making on access to records for pilots that -- Mr. Babbitt indicated to me that the next time he came to a hearing and I asked the question, have you begun a rulemaking, he indicated that he expected the answer to be affirmative rather than negative.
So I think we're making some progress here, but this is very, very important, and it's something that we have to ask questions about. They're tough questions, but necessary and important questions.
I want to thank the witnesses for being with us. Senator DeMint is the ranking member of our subcommittee, and I know Senator DeMint wishes to make a comment, and then I think also introduce Mr. Maurer more formally, who is a member of your state.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you again for conducting these hearings, and I would just add my comments to yours. I agree with everything you said about the concerns about this flight.
A lot of us get on regional flights ourselves every week going back and forth to our home states, and we assume a lot when we get on a plane, and I know all Americans do. And we do need to make sure there's a standard of safety for every American. I am looking forward to working with the chairman on language that would reveal all the pilot records just as we have them for an airplane, and some things seem to make common sense right now.
But I do have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Scott Maurer this morning. Mr. Maurer is the father of 30-year-old flight -- a 30-year- old who was in the Flight 3407 crash, Lauren Maurer. Mr. Maurer was born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania where he and his wife raised their daughter, Lauren. He currently lives in South Carolina. I appreciate him taking the time to come to Washington. I think this is his third week here, and I know this is very difficult for him to continue to recount this tragedy in public, as well as private.
Mr. Maurer comes before this committee this morning as a representative of over 150 people in the families of the 3407 group. They've come together as a result of the terrible tragedy with the goal of making changes in the airline industry and the FAA hoping to keep an accident like 3407 from happening again and saving many other families the sadness that they are continuing to endure.
Mr. Maurer is also joined this morning by his wife, Terry, and Lauren's boyfriend, Kevin Kuwik. I am deeply impressed with the work of the Maurers and Mr. Kuwik and all the families of the victims of Flight 3407. As a father of four and a grandfather of two, I can't begin to imagine the pain that comes from so tragically losing a loved one. It speaks very highly of all the families here today that you're working to take what must be such a deep sorrow and focusing it on improving airline safety and helping other Americans.
I'm looking forward to hearing your testimony, Mr. Maurer, and the recommendations this morning. And both the chairman and I -- and I know I speak for everyone on the committee. We thank you for the sacrifice that you're making to try to improve the system for others.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator DeMint, thank you very much. Let me ask others if they would limit opening comments to two minutes, and then we'll have seven-minute rounds for questions when we've heard from the witnesses.
SEN. FRANK R. LAUTENBERG (D-NJ): Yes, Mr. Chairman, very quickly -- thank you for calling this hearing because though our flight safety record is so outstanding when we look at the total of aviation and its services, the situation with the Colgan flight is one that is -- shook our bodies, our minds. The plane took off from Newark, Liberty International, in February, cost the lives of 50 people. Flight 3407 taught us that we need to improve pilot training, address flight crew hours of service, and implement consistent safety standards for both regional and large air carriers.
And just last year, we saw disturbing reports about safety inspection failures where the FAA let planes filled with passengers take off with cracked hulls. And these failures forced the cancellation of thousands of flights by airlines who may not have taken safety as seriously as they should have. And so we're anxious to learn whatever we can about the failure of good precautions with Flight 3407, and we extend our sympathies also to Mr. Maurer.
And we would like to be able to make a promise when we're finished with these hearings, Mr. Chairman, that we will have done whatever we can to make this excellent safety record that exists with American aviation even better. And we look with interest at what our witnesses (have to say ?). Thank you.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Lautenberg, thank you very much.
SEN. MIKE JOHANNS (R-NB): Mr. Chairman, thank you. My comments will be very, very brief, but let me tell you what I'm thinking about, hoping to accomplish through this process. I think the burden is on the airlines to prove to the American people that when we get on for the price of our ticket, whatever that is, that we're going to have a well experienced crew who will treat us politely and decently, an airplane that is safe as can possibly be. And I think, really, the burden is there.
When I think about this flight -- and I feel so badly for these families, but this hearing is bigger than that one flight -- I think about questions, like is the plane safe? What's the inspection background of this airplane? What would the service records show me if I were to take a look at them? I ask myself has the crew got the training, the talent, the background, the discipline? Have they gotten a good night's sleep so they can handle all situations?
I had a pilot -- a dear friend of mine -- he flew small planes -- who said to me, you know, flying is hours and hours of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror. And, you know, that always stuck with me. I ask myself does the crew know when they are entering a situation that is beyond their capability, or their airplane's capability? Are they trained well enough and do they have the talent and experience and background to see this situation and say I'm not going to expose my passengers to that risk? I don't care what somebody above me is trying to say.
And those are the things that I hope to accomplish in this hearing. So my hope is we can focus on some of those questions and others, and I'll wrap up by just saying, Mr. Chairman, thanks for calling this -- such an important topic, and just glad to be here today.
SEN. DORGAN: Thank you very much.
SEN. MARK BEGICH (D-AK): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I will be very, very brief. I'll look forward to the questions and answers, but I'll be looking at this from two perspectives; one as a United States senator, but also someone who lost a family member, my father, in a plane crash. So I look at it from two different perspectives, and I will be anxious to ask several questions, and I don't want you to take any of them personal. I think this is an important issue, as just described by several senators here, of -- in regards to safety for our air flights, as people do walk onto the planes assuming they are safe transportation modes, and it's going to be important that we make sure they continue to improve on the record you have today.
But again, I'm going to be coming from two perspectives, and I hope you recognize that. Thank you very much.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Thune.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): Mr. Chairman, I too want to thank you for calling the hearing, and I want to thank our panelists for being here, especially you, Mr. Maurer, and again, our condolences to you and your family and all the families. A very tragic, tragic incident, and I applaud you for committing yourself to making sure this doesn't happen to any other families. Thank you for your efforts and for the courageous work that you're doing.
Coming from a state like mine, we have a heavy reliance on regional airlines. They play an important role in transporting passengers from smaller communities who otherwise would not have scheduled air service. And while I don't, you know, think, again, that we can -- no one's arguing that we shouldn't take our overall aviation safety record for granted. I also believe there's room for improvement, and we want to ensure that the FAA and the airlines are doing everything they can to improve the overall safety record when it comes not only to regional airlines, but to all airlines.
And I particularly want to hone in on something that we discussed at the subcommittee hearing last week, Mr. Chairman, and that is the need to incorporate more information regarding the background of pilots. I think it just makes sense that we work to ensure that the FAA incorporates a more accurate picture of a prospective pilot's flight history when an airline is looking to make a hiring decision. And voluntarily requesting this information just isn't good enough. I think there's more that Congress can require when it comes to updating the Pilot Records Improvement Act, and I hope that we can work on that in this committee to make some of those changes, because I think clearly that came into play in this very tragic incident.
But again, thank you for holding the hearing, and I want to thank our panelists, and will look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Thune, thank you very much. As several of my colleagues have mentioned, we look at these issues through the lens of tragedy regrettably, but in many cases -- and I expect Mr. Maurer is here in the hope that what we learn will save other lives and improve airline safety, and I -- all of us would I think embrace that goal.
So with that in mind, we have four witnesses, and I want to call on Mr. Jim May first today. Mr. Jim May is president and chief executive officer of the Air Transport Association of America.
Mr. May, you and I have discussed all of the issues that have been discussed this morning. The same is the case with Mr. Cohen. We've had these discussions.
Let me call on you -- let me say to all four of you that your entire statements will be made apart of the permanent record, and we would ask that you summarize your remarks.
MR. MAY: Thank you, Mr. --
SEN. DORGAN: And would you pull that very close and turn that on? Thank you.
MR. MAY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good morning. Let me also share my condolences with Mr. Maurer and the other representatives of the families that lost loved ones aboard the Colgan Air flight. It is a terrible, terrible tragedy.
In the airline industry, safety is our highest priority. We try very hard to assure that we never compromise safety because of economic conditions. We work closely with all members of the aviation community, including regional airlines, to achieve extraordinary records. No fatalities for mainline carriers in the past number of years. And it really is in that spirit that I appear before you today, with an understanding that no accident is acceptable. We have a responsibility to understand through rigorous and searching inquiry the causes of the Buffalo accident and then to take whatever single or multiple corrective measures are needed.
In light of that responsibility, we're very fortunate that there are three expert government forums in which scrutiny is happening today, right now. This is as it should be. The public needs to be confident in the responses to aviation safety issues. The National Transportation Safety Board's ongoing investigation is going to produce a far more complete picture than we have today. In this, as in previous accidents, the board is the authoritative source for making that determination and recommending corrective action.
In addition, the Department of Transportation's inspector general recently began an assessment of Federal Aviation Administration's oversight of certification, pilot qualification, training and other issues. That is in response, Mr. Chairman, to your very direct inquiry. When this review was announced, we immediately offered our resources and full cooperation to the inspector general. His evaluation and constructive suggestions that we know will result from it will augment the NTSB's effort.
Finally, the FAA's call to action held on Monday of this week is a broad-based initiative to look at safety issues, including those raised at this morning's hearing. We attended. Multiple representatives of ATA attended Monday's meeting and were impressed by the participants' focus on concrete issues and their understanding of the need for very prompt solutions. We look forward to being engaged with the FAA and other interested stakeholders in this vital work.
Now, I don't believe that any topic should be off the table in the call to action. We need to have a full and frank discussion about safety and the factors that contribute to it. There are disparities between mainline and regional safety programs. If so, they should be closed and closed quickly.
Let me suggest six or seven steps that need to be pursued right now, today. First, I think we need to apply FOQA, Flight Operational Quality Assurance Programs, used by major carriers to regional airlines. FOQA works. The collection and analysis of data recorded during flight safety improves safety.
Second, apply ASAP, Aviation Safety Action Programs, which encourage voluntary reporting of safety issues and events that come to the attention of employees to those regional airlines that don't currently have such a program. Third, identify advanced training best practices of mainline carriers to be used by regional carriers. It's an AQP program in the jargon. Fourth, we need a centralized database of pilot records to give airlines easy access to complete information about applicants from the time they very begin their flying career.
Fifth, let's see if the FAA needs to increase compliance with the Sterile Cockpit Rule and what measures it should use to do that. Sixth, let's examine flight crew preparedness when pilots report to work. This means looking at crew member commuting. If this means examining flight and duty time issues, I think that's perfectly appropriate, but tie it to the commuting side of that equation as long as any examination is based on science, not anecdotes.
Each of these initiatives can and should be achieved in short order. We're looking forward to working with this committee, the FAA, the IG, the NTSB in as cooperative a fashion as possible.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll be pleased to answer any questions.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. May, thank you very much. Next we'll hear from Mr. Cohen.
Mr. Cohen, you may proceed.
MR. COHEN: Thank you. Chairman Dorgan, Senator DeMint, and members of the subcommittee, I'm Roger Cohen and I'm president of the Regional Airline Association. I want to express our deepest sympathies for the lives of the passengers and crew of Flight 3407 that were lost and for the families affected by the crash. We deeply share in their grief. I also want to express today, not only for our member airlines, but for our 60,000 highly trained professionals, our total unwavering commitment to safety.
As we work towards ensuring this post -- as we work towards this -- let's make sure this post-accident process does not have to be repeated. We will take whatever steps are necessary so that our flight crews and our aircraft are as safe as humanly possible. The safety of our nation's skies is a shared responsibility. At Monday's FAA summit, five of our regional airline CEOs and other senior leaders in -- five of our CEOs joined with federal agencies, major airlines, and union representatives to candidly explore all of the issues making headlines over these past few months.
Regional airlines have but one objective, and that's to prevent any future accidents. And as we do that, as this committee has noted, it's important to keep our perspective and to reassure the American public that flying is extremely safe. In fact, until this recent tragedy, commercial airlines had gone the longest period in aviation history without a fatal accident.
Working collectively, rolling up our sleeves with all parties, government, labor, manufacturers, airlines have steadily improved our safety record over the course of many decades of safety initiatives, investigations, and reviews of accidents and incidents, large and small. Nevertheless, we can and must do better. Our industry's number one goal has been and always will be zero accidents and zero fatalities.
Mr. Chairman, at your request, our member airlines provided the committee very detailed information about their operations, their training, their hiring, their employees. Today, we will try to better define the regional airline industry to clear up some of the misconceptions. More importantly, we will talk about the steps that regional airlines have already taken and the actions we plan to take to further focus our total commitment to safety and accident prevention.
Our airplanes typically carry up to 100 passengers. More than 50 percent of all of the scheduled airline passenger flights in the United States are on regional airlines, and most notably, three out of every four commercial airports in this country are served exclusively by regional airlines.
Our airlines, as you've indicated, largely operate in seamless partnership with the major airlines. Regional airlines provide the crew and the aircraft, while major airlines set the flight schedules, the fares, and the customer service policies. Regional airlines and our major airline partners operate as a single, integrated system; one ticket, one trip, one safety standard.
All passenger airlines are subject to the exact same FAA safety standards and requirements. It's been this way for more than a decade. Our goal is to prevent accidents, and that's why we are earnestly and eagerly supporting the FAA's call to action and why the Regional Airline Association has embarked on our own strategic safety initiative to underscore our safety culture and to help prevent accidents.
This strategic safety initiative has four elements: first, we'll be bringing together our safety professionals to review all of the procedures and address any issue that can even be perceived as a contributing factor to an accident. Second, we will conduct a thorough review of fatigue, looking at all the human factors in the scientific field to minimize the risks associated with fatigue. Third, we will implement a fatigue awareness management program so that our airlines keep this issue top of the mind for both our flight crews, and just as importantly, airline management.
Fourth, we will reach out in partnership with you in Congress, across the government, and to our fellow stakeholders in labor and throughout the aviation industry to explore the full range of issues which could help us improve safety and prevent future accidents. And among those are, number one, establish a single integrated FAA database of pilot records. Second, explore random fatigue testing. Third, examine the practice of commuting. Fourth, extend the period for background checks from five to ten years. And fifth, seek to analyze the information from cockpit voice recorders in settings other than accident investigations, and mine all this tremendous data of check rides to look for trends to help prevent future accidents.
Mr. Chairman, the Regional Airline Association thanks you for the opportunity to testify today and for opening the dialogue on these critical issues. We look forward to keeping you informed, and I welcome any questions you might have.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. Cohen, thank you very much for your testimony.
Next we will hear from Captain John Prater, the president of the Airline Pilots Association.
Mr. Prater, you may proceed.
MR. PRATER: Thank you, Chairman Dorgan. We commend this committee for calling this hearing to take a closer look at some of the critical issues affecting airline pilots and our charges. Many of these issues -- pilot screening and hiring standards, training and mentoring -- were at the top of the agenda at the FAA's Call to Action Summit in which we participated on Monday. While this meeting was a critical first step towards developing solutions to these problems, we encouraged the FAA to take a more structured approach in working with the airlines and labor to established an agreed to implementation plan for all parties to adopt.
In recent years -- we have to look more at the system. The major airlines have come to rely heavily on code share arrangements with the so-called regional airlines to connect large, mid-size, and small cities in the U.S., in Canada, in Mexico, to their international hubs. This has resulted in the exponential growth of the regional sector of the industry. Still, the major carriers exert a great deal, almost total pressure on the regional airlines to provide their service at the lowest possible price. They control ticket pricing and schedules, and they regularly move flying between their regional partners. This exacerbates breaking the chain of pilot experience. Couple that with 160 or more bankruptcies in the airline industry and airline pilots leaving the industry because there's been no way to protect and retain that experience in the cockpit. We start over again and again.
Some of the major airlines even today are outsourcing their flying to the regionals and laying off their own pilots, losing those decades of experience to the profession. These experienced pilots cannot afford to work for one of these so-called regional carriers as a newly hired first officer. As a result, many of the smaller regional carriers hire pilots near the FAA minimum standards and do not employ adequate screening processes during hiring that identify that ideal candidate.
As was brought out during the NTSB's recent hearing on the tragic accident in Buffalo, many pilots who fly for the regional airlines are not getting adequate training or enough rest. Airlines are requiring pilots to work longer days and more of them each month. Fleet and frequent base changes are forcing pilots to decide between commuting or possibly taking another pay cut to train on new equipment. The consequences -- the quality of airline pilot careers has been greatly diminished, and the severe erosion of benefits and quality of life are motivating experienced aviators to move to other professions.
Current training practices do not take into account the drastic change in pilot applicants' experience. Instead, they assume that that pilots are far more experienced that may actually be. ALPA believes there must be a new focus on standardization and even on fundamental flying skills. To meet this challenge, airlines and other training providers must develop methodologies to train for that lack of experience and to train for judgment. Current training practices may also need to be adjusted to account for the source and the experience level of that new pilot entering into initial training with his or her airline.
ALPA also believes there should be more stringent academic requirements to obtain both commercial and airline transport pilot ratings in preparation to start a career as an airline pilot. The FAA should develop and implement a structured and rigorous (grounds school ?) and testing procedures for pilots who want to qualify to fly for 121 airlines.
ALPA also recommends that airlines provide specific command and leadership training courses for new captains to instill in them the necessary skills and traits to be a real leader on the fly deck. Airlines should also implement mentoring programs for both captains and first officers as they first enter operations in their new crew positions to help them apply the knowledge and skills to line operations from their more experienced peers.
Flight experience and pilot capabilities cannot be measured by mere flight hours. We must remember that each and every pilot out there today has met the FAA's standards, has met and trained and exceeded the standards of their airline who's responsible for certifying them.
Turning to another area of concern -- for two decades you have heard me and my predecessors speak about the problem of pilot fatigue. It's time. We need to address those rules and we need to change them. Other means to enhance safety and improve airline operations -- we agree with Mr. May. Data collection and analysis programs -- (inaudible) -- FOQA and ASAP -- we need to share that information across the industry and then modify our practices to make sure that the best practices are being used by the entire family of airlines. In order to allow those programs to grow and make these reports more readily obtainable, additional legislative protections will be needed to limit the use of ASAP and FOQA data in civil liability cases and to ensure that the information is used to increase safety.
The best safety device on any airplane is a well-trained, well- rested, highly motivated pilot. A strong safety culture must be instilled and consistently reinforced from the highest levels within an airline and among its code share regional partners.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you, and I'll be ready to take any questions.
SEN. DORGAN: Thank you very much, Captain Prater.
And finally, we will hear from Mr. Maurer, Mr. Scott Maurer, who is a representative of the families of Continental Flight 3407.
Mr. Maurer, I know that your daughter, Lauren, was a passenger on that flight, and I know that it is likely difficult for you to speak publicly about these issues, but on behalf of the families, I believe that all of you wanted an opportunity to do that, and I'm pleased to give you that opportunity, and our thoughts and sympathies are with you and the families.
MR. MAURER: Thank you, and bear with me. (Laughs.
On behalf of the families of Flight 3407, we would like to thank you, Chairman Dorgan, and ranking member, Senator DeMint, and all of the other subcommittee members of aviation for the opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Scott Maurer, and you've heard my daughter, Lauren Maurer, was a passenger on Continental Flight 3407.
Tomorrow night at 10:17 it will be 18 weeks since our lives were changed forever. The minutes, hours, days and weeks that have passed since this tragedy have been an unbelievable nightmare for all of us. It's a pain that you will never know, and certainly one we hope no one else will face. We believe very strongly the crash did not have to happen and was preventable.
As such, we are here today and will be here tomorrow and beyond to ask for your help and push for change so that other families can be spared this pain. When my 30-year-old daughter, Lauren Maurer, an athletics fundraiser at Princeton University and future athletic director, purchased her ticket from Continental Airlines, she assumed the pilots who would fly that plane were competently trained. She thought they had significant experience and knowledge of the plane and all of the flight control features.
As she took her seat in 3A for an exciting Valentine weekend to join her boyfriend, Kevin Kuwik, in Buffalo, I am sure she believed that the pilots at the controls had been trained to handle cold weather flight conditions, stalls, and other emergency situations that all pilots are expected to be prepared to confront. There are many other examples I could share from the victims' perspective, but time limits will not allow today.
A critical message I do want to relay to you here today is that when the American public buys a ticket from an airline, they assume and expect that safety is -- that their safety is in good hands. Sadly, we find that that is not always the case, and we are here today imploring you for assistance and action.
So how can you help? Number one, let's put the best pilots in the cockpit and set them up for success. Now, this sounds very simple, but in reality it takes money to do this. And the airline industry has not stepped up to the plate. Pilot hiring procedures, training, fatigue management and compensation have all been discussed throughout these hearings. The media attention focused on the failures of Colgan Air and its flight crew have resulted in a hastily called emergency summit meeting earlier this week, bringing together representatives of the FAA and the airline industry to discuss these very same issues.
Unfortunately, meetings of this magnitude have been done before, resulting in little change, as the costs have always been too high for implementation. To break down the bureaucratic logjam, the families of the victims are now forced to ask Congress to intervene and do the right thing for public safety.
Number two -- better aviation oversight by the federal government. Americans believe that the role of the FAA is that of a gatekeeper, an agency that is technically trained and expertly qualified to watch over the airline industry for the safety of the American public. We have certainly identified leaks in this dike. While we are optimistic that the newly appointed administrator hears our pleas for action, we fear that the obstacles thrown up by the airline industry and pilot unions will be very hard to overcome. Again, we are asking for congressional intervention, as history of these organizations voluntarily taking action to improve safety has been woefully inadequate.
Number three -- NTSB recommendations. Why are we willing to accept an 85 percent implementation rate of NTSB recommendations by the FAA when 100 percent would save lives? Would I even be sitting here talking to you today had previous recommendations for training and cold weather flight management been acted on? These recommendations must be taken seriously, enacted on jointly by the FAA and the NTSB. We must learn from accidents so we can prevent future occurrence.
My wife, Terry, my son Christopher, and Lauren's boyfriend, Kevin, miss Lauren every minute of every day. I will not have the opportunity to walk my daughter down the aisle and give her away in marriage. She will not experience the joy of a growing child within and raising a loving family as we did. Our traditional Christmas Eve visit to New York City for some last minute shopping and taking in mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral will probably come to an end this year. It'll just be too painful to make that trip without Lauren.
Many of my fellow crash victim families sitting behind me also have similar stories and similar losses. So now it's up to you to make a difference. Everyone in this room today and those who were here last Wednesday express that they have come before you to make the necessary changes in safety. Winter is coming. If we do not implement critical safety changes before then and another accident occurs, we can only blame ourselves for the losses of those families. I do not wish to shoulder that burden and hope and believe that you agree with me.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Senator DeMint, and all of the other Aviation Committee members, thank you for your time, and I'm open also to answering questions.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. Maurer, thank you very much. I indicated in the last hearing that I have some discomfort about a good many things here. Reading the transcript of the cockpit recording demonstrated to me a number of errors that occurred. A number of deficiencies occurred in the management of that flight. I also said that that young copilot and pilot perished in that accident as well, and they're not here to speak. They're not here to speak for themselves, and they have families who miss them terribly.
And so I'm discomforted by that, and yet, we have no choice but to proceed aggressively to find out -- what are the standards here, and are these accidents -- was this an accident that could've been prevented? How do we prevent future accidents in circumstances like this?
Let me ask a few questions, if I might. My understanding, I would say to Mr. May and Mr. Cohen -- my understanding is that we're hiring pilots to put in a cockpit of commercial airlines with 30, 50, 80, 90 passengers behind the cockpit. We're hiring some of them for $10 an hour. Is that correct?
MR. COHEN: Mr. Chairman, the average pay of a regional airline captain is $72,000 per year. The average pay of a first officer at a RRA member airline is $32,000 a year. That's very comparable to other professions that have lives at stake; medical assistants, paramedics.
SEN. DORGAN: But Mr. Cohen, I'm asking what you're -- is it the case that we're hiring pilots to put in the cockpit of commercial airplanes and paying them $22,000, $23,000 a year? That's $10 an hour roughly. Isn't that the case? And if that's the case, one wonders, what is the capability of pilots that are coming out of school with a good many hours who meet the technical qualifications, get hired for $10 an hour, and then live with their parents in Seattle and fly to Newark to a duty station all night long? And at that salary, they're going to hire a crash pad or maybe rent a hotel to get some sleep? Don't think so.
So my question is a very specific question. Isn't there a significant issue here about experience and funding and salaries at the entry level on some of these airplanes where we're getting -- all of us are getting on. The name is the same. We think it's -- you know, it's Northwest. It's Continental. It's Delta. The same name, but it's just -- it's a different carrier with a completely different standard, it seems to me, of hiring new pilots that are entering that cockpit. Am I wrong about that?
MR. COHEN: Mr. Chairman, I think I heard a couple of questions in there, and let me just try to expand on a couple of things. First of all, most importantly, compensation and safety are not related. The NTSB has never in all of its accident investigations ever cited compensation or pay as a causal factor, even a contributing factor to an aircraft accident. The pay is fair and competitive in a very difficult industry. I'm a veteran of that industry, and I will tell you that it is a -- and as Captain Prater pointed out, it is a very difficult industry. The pay and training that -- and first time -- the opportunity that person comes into -- that they are proficient, that they are well-trained, that -- we would not put that person in charge of that airplane, in charge of that crew -- the safety of that -- we would not if that person weren't well-trained and prepared.
SEN. DORGAN: Well, let me ask -- do we have the chart with respect to commuting? Let me ask a question of Captain Prater.
This chart shows the commuting for Colgan Airlines, but I assume it's a chart that applies to most airlines, people flying all over the country to get to their duty station. That shows Newark, and it shows the pilots -- where they're living in order to fly to Newark to get to a duty station. That make any sense to you, Captain Prater? I understand you might say, well, you know what? It's always been that way. People need to get there. They've got to be on their own. They've got to get adequate rest and so on. But this case had a copilot that flew all night long to get to her duty station. And so does that make sense?
MR. PRATER: It makes sense, and I would agree with you that that is -- represents the reality of our air transportation system and our pilots. However, I think we have to take a very close look again at the system that has created this. You can't open and close domiciles on a regular basis and transfer flying and lay off pilots at one airline and not give them some ability to either move to their new station or to get to work. Even if I am based in Houston and the company needs me out of Newark, they will dead-head me to Newark. They will get me to where I should start my flight.
There is a huge responsibility that professional aviators take very near and dear. None of us get into a cockpit believing that we're going to fail that day. Every one of these aviators face the weather, the same weather and the same situation. Engines fail. We have emergencies, and our pilots do it.
SEN. DORGAN: But with very different levels of skill and experience. Do you agree?
MR. PRATER: Yes, without a doubt.
SEN. DORGAN: All right. Look, I have very limited time. I'm going to stay here and ask all my questions at the end of this. I don't want to disabuse -- or abuse, rather, the -- my colleagues, but the question of pilot records -- Captain Prater, do you have a problem with -- if we know everything about an airplane, we -- that a potential employer should know everything about a pilot's records?
MR. PRATER: I believe that the Record Act can be improved. I do think that history and performance is necessary and good, but don't look at that in a -- as the entire story. We are constantly going through training and must meet the standards every month, every week, every year. So just like when you create an airplane, you test it to destruction. As pilots, we are trained to appoint outside of what we can do. We must find our limits. You must push pilots in their training to be able to meet and succeed, but many times that takes a lot of training, more than we're getting today.
SEN. DORGAN: You seem to imply in your testimony that there was two standards with respect to commercial -- excuse me, commercial aviation. One would be the trunk carriers, or network carriers, and the other the regional. Do you believe there are two standards in the cockpit?
MR. PRATER: I'll say it succinctly. We have one level of regulation. We do not have one level of safety.
SEN. DORGAN: So different levels of enforcement.
MR. PRATER: Yes.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. May, do you agree with that?
MR. MAY: Mr. Chairman, I do agree to this extent. FAR 121 is the single standard that the FAA has promulgated to which we all must adhere. I don't think there is any question that mainline carriers exceed that FAR 21 base far more often than most.
SEN. DORGAN: But that which exists in law or rule is relevant only to the extent you have a federal agency that says you know what? We're going to force you to own up to the law and the rule --
MR. MAY: That is --
SEN. DORGAN: -- and we're going to enforce it and enforce it aggressively.
MR. MAY: That is correct.
SEN. DORGAN: Do you believe that's the case now?
MR. MAY: I think that we can have greater enforcement, and if the committee and the FAA choose, you can even change some of the parameters. We've suggested -- as I said in my testimony today, you ought to have FOQA programs, ASAP programs required as part of the base. I think you can use AQP programs on training. I think there are a number of issues on pilot records that you can resolve. All of those things could be done to further improve the environment.
SEN. DORGAN: One final point. Mr. Cohen and Mr. May, as I indicated when I started this hearing, I want to invite the folks that run the carriers themselves to come to that table. And we had made some invitations, and apparently have not had acceptance of those invitations. So we'll remake them, fully understanding they will be accepted and have another hearing with the airlines themselves.
MR. COHEN: Mr. Chairman, you have our commitment. Whoever you want, whenever you want, we will provide them here.
SEN. DORGAN: Thank you very much.
SEN. DEMINT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think we need to get a little more specific, and Mr. May, I appreciate you mentioning specifics about maybe what we can do with training. But what I'm not hearing here today are specific ideas about what do we need to change to prevent something like this from happening again? I mean, there have got to be things that come to mind that we need to change. I mean, obviously, we have some situations of violating current rules. No Sterile Cockpit in this particular crash, that the pilots themselves violated rules. We need to make sure that that doesn't happen again.
But what do we need to do? What do the carriers need to do? What do we need to do from a regulatory perspective, and do we need legislation that the regulators can't carry out? So what we're looking for here is what we can do. And so I would just like -- Mr. May, starting with you, because you mentioned training, but what we need are specifics here of things that can be done to improve safety perhaps that this crash brings to light that we're currently not doing or not requiring, or not auditing. We have so far gotten a lot of assurances that safety is our main concern, but the reason we're here is that that broke down.
So I'm just looking for some ideas. We need to know if we need to push the regulators to do something different. We need to pass legislation, or do we need to insist on the carriers to do something they're not doing?
Mr. May, I'll go with you, and then -- (inaudible).
MR. MAY: Senator DeMint, I think I made seven very specific recommendations in my oral testimony. I'll recap them for you today. I think there needs to be a requirement that regional carriers implement FOQA programs and ASAP programs, both of which -- Captain Prater I think would agree -- are all fully in use at mainline levels and would make a marked difference if applied at the regional levels. I think, number three, we need to put in a new training standard, if you will. There's a long, open NPRM on training at the FAA. I think probably it would be wise for the FAA to implement an ARC, an aviation rulemaking committee, and take a hard look at AQP programs, advanced qualification programs, if you will, that are -- have been developed by mainline carriers, could be mentored and transported to regional carriers to improve safety in terms of training.
Number four, I think you need to take -- or have the -- direct the FAA to take a hard look at how they'd better enforce the Sterile Cockpit Rule. We recognize that there are privacy issues involved here, but I think there needs to be some kind of monitoring of cockpit tapes on a frequent basis that we can -- (inaudible).
SEN. DEMINT: This random auditing of --
MR. MAY: Yeah, at some point, and I suspect Captain Prater would acknowledge that as long as we protect the privacy of the pilots, there's a way that can be done. Next, I think you need to have a very specific program promulgated by the FAA on records so that when a carrier goes out to hire an individual pilot, they have access to all of that pilot's records in the same place and in the same format so that they can have a complete look at what has gone on there.
And finally -- (clear throat) -- excuse me -- finally, I think you need to make sure that we have a very close look at the whole process that is used by the FAA to regulate 121 and how many of these issues need to be incorporated in it, or whether or not the standard is fine. It just needs to be an enforcement issue. So those are some very specific recommendations.
SEN. DEMINT: That's very helpful. I think we need to somehow get that in a -- some joint letter to the FAA to make sure that we're at least reviewing those recommendations. The other witnesses, do you agree? Some things need to be added?
MR. COHEN: Senator DeMint, members of the committee, we would wholeheartedly support the points that Mr. May pointed out. I think the industry -- again, one industry in concurrence on these type of issues. Let me just point out two specific things in addition. This integrated database of pilot records is something that Congress and the -- can direct the FAA to do and to do it immediately so that the access to this information is readily available to people as we hire, as -- the better information we have about everybody in the system, the safer it will be.
And the other issue underscoring the use of CVRs -- and I think, as you all talked about in your remarks, it is a tragedy that we are here, and all of the issues that Congress, the FAA are learning about are from -- it had to be after the tragedy, and that is a shame, that if there is a tool out there that can be used to help prevent accidents that is getting information about how to prevent accidents before they happen and we are not even touching it, that is a real tragedy.
SEN. DEMINT: Captain?
MR. PRATER: Sir, I'd like to respond. We're talking Band-Aids here, and we need to look at the system. The thought that somehow we can monitor cockpit voice recorders and somehow improve the safety or the compliance of pilots -- let us focus on the professionalism and the training of those airmen who do this day in and day out. We're missing something here. We're missing that these airmen have been doing their job. Now, let's not take this accident and try to say it was caused because pilots were talking in the cockpit. You have to communicate. You have to relay.
I'm not going to talk about this one, obviously, because it's still under investigation and we're analyzing. Do we want to improve it? Yes. But where do you learn to become a professional? You learn it from the men and women that you respect. You break the chain and you keep moving around flying, and where do you get that experience? All of a sudden a new first officer is flying with somebody who's only been flying for three years. That wouldn't have happened if the airlines wouldn't keep pushing flying around the system.
It took me 12 years to make captain. That used to be the norm. We went through 12 years, or eight years, or five years of airline operations. Now it's much quicker.
SEN. DEMINT: Let me just be clear. You object to kind of random reviews of cockpit recordings just to verify that we're keeping sterile cockpits and following other rules? You object to that?
MR. PRATER: I don't object to it as long as it's done in the system like an ASAP program where it can be protected and we learn about safety. If you want to use it to monitor, you'll actually create a cockpit that may not be as safe. Let's not mistake that sterile cockpit means we're focused upon flying the airplane at critical points. That is standard. That's what goes on. I think we're assuming a little bit too much. If it's protected and used as safety data, then we should be able to find a way to make the system safer. And that is our shared goal.
SEN. DEMINT: Because I know just about every service company I call on the telephone now, bank or whatever, is going to say this call may be audited for quality purposes. And you can't improve what you don't measure. And I think to assume that a one-time training scheme is going to monitor potential problems over the lifetime of a pilot is like assuming the same thing for an airplane. So I'm a little concerned that you consider that a Band-Aid. Do you consider getting the records -- keeping records of pilots over their career -- is that a Band-Aid?
MR. PRATER: Again, are we going to compare apples with apples? Which training school did they come out of? You don't want to create a system where -- hey, Joe, go to X, Y, Z training school because they don't flunk anybody. You won't have anything on your record. Or do you want them to go to the hardest school out there where they push you to your limits, push you to a failure not of a check ride, but all these are maneuvers that we must be trained in over and over, whether they're emergencies or back to basic flying skills. So you don't want to create a system that actually finds a way of getting around that. Don't create a loophole.
SEN. DEMINT: I know I'm over time, but can we allow Mr. Maurer just to comment to the suggestions that have been made?
MR. MAURER: I guess I'd just like to remind everybody -- when you're sitting in the passenger section of the plane, again, you're unaware of who's up there on the other side of those doors. Is full disclosure too much of a thing to ask when your life is at hand?
Another comment, Chairman Dorgan had that chart up there. My commute to work is seven miles. Members of the Senate, I know that you come from pretty far away, but you have a residence here. You have some place here. Perhaps, the airline industry needs to consider providing for that kind of thing if we're going to allow pilots to commute these great distances.
I happen to travel probably every other week, and it's not uncommon for me to be sitting side by side with pilots who are commuting to their base location. They're tired. I get in conversations with them all the time, they're tired. Those hours don't count towards the critical restrictions. I mean, these are things that we've got to take into account. We learned in our accident of long hours that were taken just getting to work and then you're going to climb on a plane and fly. So I just -- let's keep the human element in mind. Let's not be defensive.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Lautenberg.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Thanks. I think there was a response to a question by Senator Dorgan that kind of missed the boat about the relatively modest wages that are paid to people such as the co-pilot of flight 3407 because he said it's kind of a pay scale that might be applied in other professions. But I think the point was missed because if someone is not making enough money to take care of themselves and their families, it will typically mean a second job, a second opportunity to earn some more money is in the cards. As a consequence there's more effort, there's more opportunity for fatigue to creep into the individual's operation. And so I think that when we talk about a profession that in the year might pay $20,00 a year, we're talking about, that's almost minimum wage for any kind of a job, whether it's a janitor or otherwise, you know bank teller.
And so we have to look at these in real time. And you know at the previous hearing that we held on aviation safety, one of the questions that I raised was how many times does an inability to pass tests be allowed before it's three strikes or whatever the number is and you're out. I mean, would anyone here want to go into major surgery, heart, head, whatever, and have a physician there who flunked his tests five times before they squeezed him through the operation and put life in his hands?
I think there's a point in time when you have to say, hey, if you can't master this in two or three times, then find something else to do. People love to fly, I know a lot of pilots, I sat a lot in second seats in small airplanes, and flying it's a glamorous job, it really is, I don't know how it is as commercial operation when you're sitting in seats to fly back home or otherwise away from home, et cetera.
But I think there's a point in time Captain Prater that say hey, this is not the kind of -- the simulators have replicate emergency situations?
MR. PRATER: Very much so. You can really do a good job of training for emergencies. It doesn't replicate though the fact that when you're in an airplane, it's much more three dimensional, all the forces on you. So sometimes you have to go back to that basic airmanship.
But to your point sir, at most of the airlines that three strikes and you're out is just about the way it works. It's over simplified but we give an airman two chances. There's a training review board where the company, the industry we may even send the pilot out for a physical, a psychological exam, a fitness for duty, is there something else going on with that individual. But basically by the third time of that failure trying to master the same maneuver or the same airplane, and pilot's jobs are at risk at that point.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: So this was an oddity that had the captain of this flight failing five times over a period of years, the records didn't go back far enough to dig out the information.
MR. : So again I think we have to make sure that we are comparing apples with apples. If he had problems in his private pilot license or commercial pilot license with basic airmanship skills and had to be retrained there, but we can't get away from the fact that he met all of the FAA standards and he met the standards that their employer had set as required by the FARs.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Is the testing or the training for a regional pilot the same as it is for pilots in the major airlines?
MR. : Yes, it is Senator.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: It is. Do the regular airline companies, aviation companies, pay as little as $20,000 a year and put someone even alongside a trained captain in the cockpit?
MR. : Senator as a practical matter, the pilots that are hired by the mainline have significantly more seniority on average and are paid at a higher level. Pay is a function of collective bargaining and it's generally also conditioned on number of hours, number of hours in a particular type of aircraft, whether or not they've been pilot in command, whether or not they're first officer. So there are a number of factors involved in pay but it is effectively the exclusive jurisdiction of collective bargaining and seniority.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Before someone achieves the status of captain, is there a requirement in the regionals that they fly a particular number of hours, have flown a particular number of hours Mr. Cohen?
MR. COHEN: Basic FARs require 1,500 hours of total flight time to be age 23 years old, that's the basics, that's not a lot of time in many cases, pilots do exceed that before they check out as captain, but in rapidly expanding environments, it is of a concern.
It's also the concern of how much actually experience. Time isn't the only generator. If you flew a B-52 for 20 hour missions, it's not the same amount of training as making six take off and landings a day in an airline environment. So time doesn't cure all here.
MR. : Senator, excuse me if I might --
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Yeah, go ahead.
MR. : -- for the record, our average captain at regional airline has 8,500 hours, that's pretty experienced and our average first officer is well over 3,000 hours.
SEN. LAUTENBERG: Maybe not dealing with averages but rather with specifics might be called forward to say the captain of an airplane that's got a less skilled copilot has to have had more experience than the basic experience. And that might be a good rule to put into play, but if you're going to take someone who's new at this job, and again considering all of the factors, they're complicated as could be.
But when you look at what is required of the passenger flow today in major airlines, that or regionals, that passengers are examined so thoroughly to make sure that they can't bring down an airplane. And when we look at the skills and the training and a reaction ability of a pilot, that's much more casually done and I think we can learn from that. Not to change the security process, but rather to say that the person who's up in the front of that airplane has to really be able to manage all situations. Mr. Muerer I know that it's painful for you to review this but you're doing a noble job when you say let my loss be a lesion for others and I think we have to take that very much to heart. Thank you.
SEN. DORGAN: Thank you. Senator Johanns.
SEN. JOHANNS: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Cohen how many Regional Airlines are in operation out there today? How many would that be?
MR. COHEN: Mr. Chairman, Senator, again as it's been talked about the term regional airline is more of a term almost of art rather than of science. There are 31 member RAA member airlines and those 31 members carry 90 plus percent of the passengers and scheduled service.
SEN. JOHANNS: Okay. How many of those would be profitable today? How many are actually making money?
MR. COHEN: Mr. Chairman, Senator, many of them, some of them are privately held so they do not report and I just don't have that information available to me.
SEN. JOHANNS: Of those who are not privately owned, could you get that information for us?
MR. COHEN: We will be glad to get it to you and provide it to the committee, absolutely.
SEN. JOHANNS: Let me understand your business model because I think that bears on some issues here. As I understand it, the cost of the ticket that I would purchase is not determined by that regional, it's determined by the carrier they contract with, is that correct or the majority?
MR. COHEN: The vast majority of business operations yes.
SEN. JOHANNS: How are you revenues determined then? Is it based on that ticket cost?
MR. COHEN: There's a variety of business arrangements which are proprietary in nature but it's my general understand that it can one of a couple of ways. Probably the predominant way is now what's called fee for departure or that basically the regional airline is given a schedule and is paid in some fashion based on the number of flight hours the number of trips the performance of those trips and so forth. There are regional airlines that are wholly owned subsidiaries of major airlines. That may be a different relationship. There are some independent flying regional airlines that's a smaller group. There are some business models that actually have a little bit of where the ticket price may be split but that is a very small percentage.
SEN. JOHANNS: Is it impacted by the number of people on the plane? So if you're flying 50 versus five your revenues are going to be better?
MR. COHEN: Only in those where the regional carrier would be sharing in the risk of the revenue for the flight.
SEN. JOHANNS: Okay.
MR. COHEN: But again these are proprietary, I've never seen one, it's just my general understanding.
SEN. JOHANNS: There are statistics as to how many of these regionals have gone bankrupt because of course that's a public sort of event. How many would that be?
MR. COHEN: I've been the president of the Regional Airline Association for a little over two and a half years and of our members, I believe two may have gone out of business in those two years, of our members. But again, I can get you the exact information.
SEN. JOHANNS: Okay. On the pilots themselves, you know, I started out as a young lawyer and had you asked me at age 23 are you ready to handle the most complex cases in a courtroom setting I would have said absolutely. I've got my law degree, I've got my bar certificate, let's go. I wasn't anywhere near ready.
Is the regional airline regarded as the training ground for pilots? You go there, you pick up some hours, you do some flying back and forth to whatever your, and you pick up those hours and then eventually you hopefully get to a big carrier and maybe eventually go transcontinental, I don't know what the next steps would be. Is that the case?
MR. COHEN: Unfortunately that's what this system has produced, and it's not the safest model, sir.
SEN. JOHANNS: You see Mr. Cohen averages mean nothing to me. You know when I walk down that airplane and I stick my head in the cockpit and say boy I feel so good that the average salary here is whatever you told me it was. I would never say that, I want to know that they are trained and ready and can handle thunderstorms and icing and keep me out of trouble. So your averages just don't land anywhere with me, they miss the mark completely.
What would be the minimum salary per year that a pilot would be hired to come on board?
MR. CONEN: Mr. Chairman, I don't have, Senator Johanns, I don't have the minimum again, the average which I believe we provided some information to the committee, I can get you that of our member airlines, we can provide that --
SEN. JOHANNS: I want you to get that. Your averages mean nothing.
MR. COHEN: That new pilot sir would be making between $16 and $18,000 a year for a full time job and less if he or she is on reserve.
SEN. JOHANNS: And doing that kind of commuting?
MR. COHEN: Yes, sir.
SEN. JOHANNS: Okay. Now I've traveled extensively when I was in cabinet I must admit I got tired of it, but one of the things that really, really hammered me was the constant time changes, the poor diet, the lack of exercise because you can never have a schedule. When these folks are traveling from out at the West Coast over to the East Coast and they've gone through all those time changes, how does that compute? If you see somebody that has spent the whole night, can they literally land in New Jersey and get on a airplane and start flying? Maybe the pilot captain.
MR. PRATER: While it is possible, it's also true that they may have flown that flight across the country five hour flight in the middle of the night and then be expected to sit around for a couple of hours as many as five or six hours and then fly the trip. So I would put it in the terms of where's it more, is it any more restful sitting in coach seat trying to get to work for two hours or driving to an airport for two hours? I think we have to look at that.
Obviously the subject of commuting has some focus especially on our first duty day, is that first duty day are you sufficiently rested to do your next 16 hours of duty? That's what we have to look at, those extensive periods. But I think in this case what also is forgotten is that copilot could have flown that trip instead of just ridden on it and been legal to fly that afternoon and fly that trip, that's a fact.
SEN. JOHANNS: Let me, and I'm out of time so I'm going to zero on this in a very focused way, but let's say I grew up in Florida, and I get my training in Florida and I'm used to thunderstorms, but I have no idea what icing is about, never flown in it, maybe got a little bit of training on it, but no experience whatsoever. Could a regional hire me to fly a northern route?
MR. : Mr. Chairman, no, that person would be trained extensively in the type of operations that he or she is going to be flying in.
SEN. JOHANNS: Now Captain how much --
MR. : I would disagree with that statement from this point. That pilot has passed the minimums for all types of operations and all types of weather and if his or her experience has been specifically in one area or one region of the country, they could be thrown into the worst weather of the northeast or the mountain flying or whatever without further training. And we have to talk about specific training at different points. When you move pilots around this system, we must continue that training cycle. And I think it's deficient in that area.
SEN. JOHANNS: Okay. I'll just wrap up Mr. Chairman with this very, very quick thought. I asked these questions and I'll be very candid about it because I worry that because of economics or whatever we're trying to do this on the cheap. And we are hiring pilots at a very low wage, I don't know how you'd live on that salary, and you know what you're ending up with? People who are trying to build their hours to move out of the regional system. If that is the case, that's very worrisome. Now, Mr. Cohen you represent these fine folks, prove to me I'm wrong. The burden is on the airlines to prove the safety of our travel.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Begich.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman and Mr. Maurer thank you very much for your testimony and as I said in my opening, I have experienced tragedy in my family and in a plane crash with my father but even to more extreme that the plane was never recovered. And it took a tragedy back then to change the rules of requiring locator beacons in planes because of that incident. And it was the largest air recovery attempt in this country's history. And so it seems always when we deal air traffic safety, it's always a tragedy that moves us to the next stage. So I appreciate you being here. I'm very, very sympathetic from personal reasons.
But you know as I was listening to the testimony Mr. Cohen I feel like you're on the hot seat and I appreciate you're being here. But as I was listening to you, I asked my staff because I know all associations have conferences and meetings and so forth, so while you were testifying I said go get a copy of your last conference which was held in mid-May. And is a four day, five day conference, this is now two, three months after the significant, as you described it, a very significant incident in a regional airlines history.
But yet when I look through the conference agenda of four and a half days, I see very little mention of safety except in the last, let me just finish, in the last couple of days. Now, I'm assuming through the discussion of the conference you had conversations. I know as a former mayor when the Katrina disaster happened, we spent a whole conference on it because of the importance of safety in our communities.
And so as you talk about the ideas and suggestions, I want to and I think Senator Johanns said it very clearly, it's on you and I can only look at what's been on your comments today. So I want to take a couple steps and if you want to quickly comment on the convention that's great. And I'm not going to read the agenda because you know what was there and the kind of things you covered, but it just seems that that should have been forefront. And maybe it was in your agenda that's on your website doesn't show that. And I just, it seems such an important issue.
MR. COHEN: If I might --
SEN. BEGICH: Yes.
MR. COHEN: -- to that point, Senator, our safety, the reason why RAA was created and every year for the last 34 years has been to promote the safety within the industry. The safety directors of our member airlines meet for the entire length of that conference. That is a meeting at which everything is shared again to protect these issues with the FAA, with members of the NTSB that are there and it is not a public meeting so that they can share those experiences.
And so you're exactly correct, that was not on the public website. They meet for ten hours a day and in a windowless room and we would urge you when the next time when they meet here, they meet regularly.
I would urge members of this committee to come to, you are invited, we would love to have you there.
SEN. BEGICH: Would you share the outcome of your last conference meetings from that with the committee?
SEN. BEGICH: -- confidential or whatever the rules are, I'm happy to oblige.
Let me go to another issue again Senator Johanns asked and that was regarding the pay rate. And I'm not going to debate you. It surprised me that you did not know the beginning salary or a range so do you have, has the association ever done a salary study? I'm just guessing they must have had some analysis over the many years you've been in existence. And if so, can you provide that to the committee?
MR. COHEN: Mr. Chairman, Senator, we will provide you the information of our member carriers what is publically available and we'll get that to you.
SEN. BEGICH: And I guess I would push a little further. I mean, we have rules here, we can keep things proprietary information so I would like you to stretch further if you can.
MR. COHEN: We'll do so.
SEN. BEGICH: The issue on the pay, and I know you mentioned that the compensation pay is not necessarily a driving factor. I would disagree with you just so it's clear on that fact because as again a former mayor managing over 500 police officers, 300 public safety people and they are paramedics and fire, what I never wanted them to have was a second job. I wanted one job. And one job was doing the safety of the community. So we paid them very well. And that result was we had very limited problems because of that. Because they didn't have to worry about their family and taking care of them.
So I wanted to disagree with you on that and ask you the simple question and taking it as the chairman has talked about, $22, $23,000. In Alaska small plane regionals and we have some great regionals in Alaska from the ones that operate currently there, but the pay seems to me an important factor in creating quality so that the quality of the pilot doesn't literally, and I'll use my words carefully, fly to the majors to keep them for long term careers.
Do you honestly think and I'm going off the pilots association because they obviously know because they get a paycheck, at $22 $23,000 is adequate for us to have people flying planes with I don't care if it's one person, or 20 people or 50 people.
MR. COHEN: Two points to that Senator that the pay at virtually every one of our member airlines, all but one, is collectively bargained.
SEN. BEGICH: That's not my question.
MR. COHEN: Okay.
SEN. BEGICH: Again, as a former mayor I deal with collective bargaining all the time, is it the right kind of pay to have and should we require minimums that are guaranteed pay levels for pilots in regional planes? This is the question I asked last week to folks.
MR. COHEN: Senator we believe that the industry again this very complex issue, we believe fundamentally that the quality of the people that we have flying is good. We'd like to get even better, that's one of the reasons why we have strongly support a number of the issues that we have discussed today to get better training to get better -- there is an investment here to, it's interesting that this committee, which is you know responsible for so much into the next generation of technology and spending billions of dollars that we believe that there can be some money spent on the human capital in our aviation safety system. And we would strongly support that.
SEN. BEGICH: And I've run of time so let me ask if I can to both of you I guess, to you and -- well Mr. May you could answer this too and also Mr. Prater if you would, Captain Prater if you want to answer this very quickly, it's a very simple question and that is the whole issue of down time and FAA's minimums that they currently have. And I know each one of you have mentioned FAA minimum standard requirements for pilots. Do you think the minimums are too low? The minimum standards of FAA for pilots for down time as well as other training and other issues. Do you think they're too low and need to be raised up?
And Mr. May, can we start with you? Is that okay?
MR. MAY: Certainly. Senator Begich, I assume you're talking about flight and duty time now?
SEN. BEGICH: Yes.
MR. MAY: I think they're probably appropriate, one. Two, we made a commitment at the FAA's call to action on Monday to enter into a science based study to determine whether or not they are currently appropriate or not. There's been a recent proceeding on ultra long flying that the FAA has done. It was science based, plenty of skilled people available to do that. I think we probably ought to incorporate the chairman has raised this issue of commuting, I think we ought to incorporate that into the process. And so we would strongly endorse a process being established by FAA to look at flight and duty time, current standards, how they might differ for regionals for example with lots of take off and landings verses long haul, all of that needs to be put on the table.
SEN. BEGICH: Mr. Cohen, Mr. Prater my time is definitely up so if you could be very quick on the response.
MR. COHEN: Totally agree with Mr. May.
SEN. BEGICH: Okay.
MR. PRATER: And we believe there's been enough study, we're ready to move forward with it. We do believe there's enough science on the record, we're going to make our recommendations directly to the FAA and work with the associations to move that process forward.
SEN. BEGICH: Can you share that with the committee when you do that?
MR. PRATER: Of course.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you very much. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DORGAN: Senator Klobuchar.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for having this hearing. The tragedy of the Colgan airflight brought the safety of our airlines back into the public eye. I can tell you for Senator Begich has his own very personal story, for me it was eerily reminiscent of the crash of Carl Wellstone's plane. He as you know the Senator from Minnesota, while that was a private plane the issues were ice, the issues were pilot training and the issues were fatigue. So when I hear all this from our hearing last week of underpaid pilots that are tired and pilots that aren't earning enough money, it reminds me very much of that. (END OF COVERAGE - COVERAGE WILL RESUME MONDAY, JUNE 22)