Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to move forward expeditiously with the implementation of two critical flight safety regulations that the Flight 3407 Families and Western New York delegation fought hard to pass as part of the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act. The Senators' letter comes in conjunction with their hosting the families of Continental Flight 3407 in Washington D.C. to commemorate the anniversary of the tragic plane crash in Clarence Center, New York four years ago. Schumer and Gillibrand's letter comes on the heels of a Department of Transportation (DOT) report from the Inspector General (IG) that details FAA failures toward implementation of pilot certification and crewmember training requirements. In particular, the Senators urged the FAA to put pressure on the airline industry, so that August and October 2013 deadlines are met and fully implemented.
"Following a recent report that the FAA is still lagging in implementing two critical flight safety rules, I am urging the federal government to step up and ensure that these lifesaving measures to increase pilot and crew training aren't forced to the backseat," said Senator Schumer. "I will never forget February 12, 2009 - my heart breaks every time I think about the crash that took the lives of the passengers on Flight 3407 and on the ground that day. What made the crash even more tragic was that it was completely avoidable, and we are here to continue our efforts to help prevent more avoidable tragedies. For exactly four years, these courageous people families have banded together, and have been fighting to make sure that future travelers are spared the fate that befell their loved ones, and we will continue to push forward to ensure that the FAA and the airline industry are held accountable to the law."
"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," Senator Gillibrand said. "Their tireless efforts have led to some of the most significant safety improvements in years. But we all know how much work is left to do. It is time to implement all of the rules we wrote into the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act without further delay to reach one level of safety for all crews and passengers."
In addition to urging the FAA to implement these rules by their August and October deadlines respectively, Schumer, Gillibrand and the rest of the Western New York delegation are fighting to ensure they are fully enforced from day one. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, and Representatives Higgins, Slaughter, Reed and Collins stressed that future passengers cannot afford to have these critical safety measures further delayed. The delegation acknowledged that some bad actors among the regional airlines and other special interests will continue to look for ways to get around the new tough safety standards and training requirements put in place as part of the Airline Safety Act in 2010, which is why they vowed to remain vigilant in their efforts to ensure the tragedy experienced in Clarence never happens again.
Schumer and Gillibrand highlighted that there are additional rules and regulations that they will work on as they simultaneously hold FAA to the 2013 deadlines for the pilot certification and crewmember training rules. Schumer and Gillibrand emphasized the need for a national pilot records database to be established with traceable records on pilot training, kept electronically and in real-time. The Senators stressed that the implementation of these final safety regulations is a multi-pronged process and there are many elements to increasing airline safety. The Senators also acknowledged that some of the carriers are already complying with these standards and that the FAA has assisted these carriers along the way, but more must be done.
Schumer and Gillibrand have long worked with the families of the victims in the Continental Flight 3407 crash to significantly improve air travel safety in the wake of a crash investigation which determined that shockingly limited flying experience is required to be a co-pilot for a regional carrier. From the earliest days after the crash, Schumer and the families of the victims worked on legislation to close the gaps in airline safety that allowed this tragedy to occur and create one level of safety for all segments of the industry. Their efforts culminated in the passage of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Extension Act in the summer of 2010, which mandates new safety standards including increased training for pilots and stricter flight and duty time regulations to combat pilot fatigue. This law also requires that online vendors of airline tickets disclose, at first viewing, if the flight is operated by a regional carrier instead of a major carrier.
A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand's letter appears below:
Dear Administrator Huerta:
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the tragic crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 in Clarence Center, New York. Since that crash, we have worked continuously with the families of those who were lost to implement one level of safety for all pilots, crews and passengers. We appreciate the progress made over the last four years to implement many of the recommendations that came as a result of that tragedy, but more urgent work remains to be done.
We are concerned about the recent Audit Report issued by the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General (IG) issued on January 31st. While the IG report credits the FAA with making significant progress towards improving the safety of the flying public following the crash of flight 3407, particularly as it relates to large and regional carriers, the audit also found that the FAA has had difficulty implementing the provisions passed by Congress in the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act (PL 111-216). We remain troubled by resulting delayed rulemaking on key requirements to improve flight safety.
The IG report found that the FAA has been unsuccessful in improving safety requirements for small carriers; does not have a clear strategy for transitioning to a new centralized electronic pilot records database; and that several key rulemaking deadlines have been missed. We are particularly concerned that three critical rulemakings to improve pilot standards are currently overdue, which in violation of deadlines set by Congress. This is unacceptable and must be immediately addressed. According to the IG report, the following rules are overdue:
A final rule to improve pilot qualifications, which would require all Part 121 pilots to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate.
A final rule to improve pilot and crewmember training by requiring thorough training on recognizing and recovering from stalls, as well as remedial training for those who underperform in their training. This rule is currently more than fifteen months overdue.
A proposed rule to require that air carriers establish pilot mentoring, leadership programs and professional development -- all aimed at improving pilot performance. This proposed rule is currently more than seventeen months overdue.
Finally, the investigation also found that some regional carriers did not possess adequate plans to bring a large majority of their pilots and crewmembers up to the new training standards required in the Pilot Qualifications and training rules. It is troubling to learn this information despite the many months of ample preparation time afforded to the regional carriers affected by these rules. While we acknowledge the difficulty of this task, we would urge the FAA to work with the regional carriers to ensure that every public and private resource is made available to help the hardworking pilots of these carriers ready themselves for the new standards.
In light of these and other concerns that were raised in the IG report, we would like to know how the FAA plans to address the delays plaguing the full implementation of all of the flight safety improvements mandated by Congress in PL 111-216.