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Higgins, Slaughter, Collins pledge to oppose attempts to 'undermine progress' on aviation safety


Wed, Mar 4th 2015 12:45 pm

Western New York Congress members urge caution on messages that "feed inaccurate claims on pilot training and rest standards"

As Congress begins consideration of Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, U.S. Reps. Brian Higgins (D-NY-26), Louise Slaughter (D-NY-25) and Chris Collins (R-NY-27) reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining the progress in aviation safety achieved following the 2009 crash of Flight 3407 and urged the Department of Transportation to uphold the higher pilot qualification standards.

"Getting to where we are today with flight safety improvements has been a six-year uphill battle, and we're not about to allow for even one step backward in this fight," Higgins said. "We remain vigilant and committed to ensuring that outside pressures or inaccuracies don't influence the continuation of our momentum to protect the flying public."

"The families of Flight 3407 fought hard to get new safety standards put in place to prevent similar tragedies from happening again," Slaughter said. "It would be unconscionable to roll back the hard-won safety standards achieved after this tragedy in order to placate industry wishes. We are committed to ensuring our loved ones remain protected by these vital safety standards"

"Now is not the time to waver in our commitment to the reforms secured by the families of Flight 3407," Collins said. "I remain steadfast in my fight to ensure these aviation safety measures stay in place."

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the Western New York lawmakers expressed concern over comments made during a recent House Appropriations Committee hearing, which they said could feed into industry attempts to roll back aviation safety reforms achieved through FAA reauthorization approved in 2012.

Below is the text of the Congress members' letter:

"Dear Secretary Foxx,

"We write to express our concerns regarding your comments at a recent hearing of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, regarding the Department of Transportation's Essential Air Service (EAS) Fiscal Year 2016 request.

"In response to a request to explain the Department's request to increase funding for EAS, you stated in part that "...there are more restrictive flight and duty time regulations and increased training requirements for first officers that went into effect January 2014. Those changes have led to a significant shortage in pilots..."

"As you know, following a series of tragic aviation accidents, the most recent of which was the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in Western New York in 2009, Congress enacted sweeping aviation safety reforms designed to achieve One Level of Safety for the flying public. The legislation focused on needed reforms, many of which had been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, including science based flight and duty regulations as well as updated pilot training and qualification standards. Unfortunately, some regional airlines and have argued against some of these safety improvements legislated by congress, especially the pilot training and qualification regulations, incorrectly claiming they have created a pilot shortage.

"We reject this assertion and note that a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on pilot supply and demand issues found that a sufficient pool of trained pilots exist, and identified the meager compensation for newly-hired first officers as a reason that these airlines may have difficulty attracting qualified applicants. The same report found there were 109,465 pilots with an Airline Transport Pilot license, while only 66,000 such jobs existed in 2012.

"We are afraid your comments could lend credibility to the myth that a pilot shortage exists due to regulations such as the pilot training and qualification rules, and not due to the inadequate wages, which are often as little as $14,000 to $20,000 annually. In fact, the first officer on Flight 3407 earned about $16,000 a year. The public was rightly outraged to learn that airlines consider this acceptable pay for the professionals we trust with our safety.

"As Congress prepares to undertake legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, please know that we will steadfastly oppose any attempts to roll back these hard won reforms. Further, we ask that you reconsider your position that these regulations have led to a shortage of qualified pilots, which we believe to be made in error. This is a dangerous position which could undercut significant improvements in aviation safety.

"We know you share our commitment to the safety of the travelling public and look forward to working with you on these and other issues of aviation safety in the future. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter."

Members of Western New York's federal delegation, along with the families of Flight 3407, worked to include reforms related to pilot fatigue rules, training requirements and consumer transparency toward the goal of "one level of safety" in the last reauthorization bill.

FAA reauthorization, set to expire in September, is currently under debate in Congress.

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