Western New York's representatives on Capitol Hill are urging the federal government to keep pilot training rules in place that were implemented one year after Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence, killing all aboard and one person on the ground.
Investigators blamed the February 12, 2009 crash on pilot error. The pilot, they said, was inadequately trained and lacked sufficient air experience.
Relatives of Flight 3407 victims joined Western New York's representatives on Capitol Hill to push for passage of new rules to ensure increased pilot training. It resulted in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. Under that legislation, non-military pilots must clock a minimum 1,500 hours of flight experience before they may work as commercial airline pilots.
Many commercial airlines are complaining of a pilot shortage. Committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are currently discussing legislation to reauthorize the FAA act. Some fear that in response to concerns raised by airlines, they may consider easing some of the training requirements included in the 2010 legislation.
On Tuesday, family members of Flight 3407 victims joined a group of Western New York lawmakers in Washington, urging Congress to leave the rules alone.
"The safety of the flying public should never be compromised again," said Representative Brian Higgins on the House floor Tuesday. "I am prepared, along with the Western New York delegation and with the 3407 families, to protect these reforms once again. We know the painful lessons of accepting anything less."
Among the family members speaking in Washington Tuesday was Jennifer West and her 10-year-old daughter Summer, whose father Ernest was among those who perished. Jennifer told WBFO her daughter "really wanted to go" this time to the nation's Capitol "to talk about her dad and what a great loss he was."
"She's proven to be quite a fighter here," said Jennifer West of Summer, who was two years old when Flight 3407 crashed. "She has no fear. She just goes right up to those congressmen and senators and gives them that letter and says, 'Please read this' and they're sort of dumbfounded."
If the pilot standards the families fought for are rolled back, Jennifer West said the death of those crash victims "was in vain then." She said on Wednesday the family members will be lobbying Senate Commerce Chair Sen. John Thune, who has proposed loosening the pilot rules in the FAA act.
"For those [family members] who can't come down to D.C., we have a campaign where you call the people that we want to get through to and we're hearing that some of them have been downright rude," said Jennifer West. "They're almost like, 'Oh no, not you again.'"
Congressman Tom Reed is among the Western New York representatives who are vowing to block any compromises to rules currently in place. During his weekly conference call Tuesday, he recalled the remarks of family members during their Washington appearance and pointed out the track record since passage of the 2010 act.
"If you look at the charts, since these regulations went into effect we've had zero fatalities in the U.S. aviation spectrum," Reed said. "From my perspective, this is a reasonable regulation. This is one that has a return when it comes to safety."
However, those urging federal lawmakers to adjust the rules is the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. Earlier this year, as reported by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, General David Goldfein noted that pilots trained by the military need only record 750 hours of flight experience before taking a commercial job. He expressed worry that commercial airlines, which are complaining about a pilot shortage, may seek to lure pilots away from the armed forces.
Congressman Chris Collins, along with Iowa lawmaker Dave Loebsack, wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking her to support keeping current pilot training requirements in place.
“I would be gravely concerned if their efforts are overturned because of regional airlines trying to extend their profits," said Collins in a prepared statement. "The federal government and the airlines have a responsibility to keep Americans safe in the skies. It is our hope Secretary Chao joins in our efforts to save the current pilot training standards which have proven so effective."