WASHINGTON, D.C. — It's back to Western New York for the families of Flight 3407 victims after continuing their fight for safer skies in the nation's capital.
For the past nine years, families of those lost when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed into a home in Clarence Center have been fighting for safer air travel. They’ve made dozens, if not hundreds, of trips to Washington, D.C., lobbying for increased pilot training and other precautions in the hopes of preventing other families from sharing the same grief.
All the changes they’ve worked for have been made into law, but the Trump administration is facing new pressure to weaken the regulations. Some argue the increased requirements have led to a pilot shortage, as it takes longer to meet the 1,500 hour threshold for certification than the original 250 hours needed at the time of the crash.
The families hope Rep. Chris Collins, a strong supporter of their efforts, can use his influence on President Trump to keep the standards in place. They’re in Washington this week to tell their stories and keep the safety of air passengers in the minds of legislators.
Collins stood alongside Sen. Charles Schumer, Reps. Brian Higgins and Louise Slaughter, all Democrats, and fellow Republicans like Rep. Tom Reed, with the families on this most recent trip.
In a statement issued Monday, the anniversary of the crash, the families reiterated their commitment: “We are counting on FAA, DOT, and OMB to fully implement an electronic pilot records database and to finalize a rulemaking that will enhance Pilot Professional Development. When completed, these undertakings will allow us to make even further progress towards our goal of putting the best pilots in the cockpit, and setting them up for success.”
Among the key dates in the investigation into the crash and the families’ efforts:
- May 11, 2009: During the investigation, it is revealed that the flight’s pilot, Captain Marvin Renslow, failed three check rides before he was hired by Colgan Air; other reports indicate he might not have been properly trained to handle emergency situations.
- May 13, 2009: The first lobbying trip to Washington for 3407 families, three months and one day after the crash.
- February 2, 2010: The National Transportation Safety Board releases its final report into the crash, noting Renslow’s inability to manage the flight properly and his inappropriate response to the plane’s “stick shaker” which could have exacerbated the plane’s drop in altitude. Crew fatigue also is noted as a reason for poor performance.
- February 12, 2010: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduces the Flight 3407 Memorial Act, which would require the FAA to provide Congress copies of reports on all new proposed safety recommendations issued by the NTSB’s investigation.
- March 2010: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) changes his mind and withdraws his opposition to flight safety measures backed by the 3407 families after meeting with them and hearing their stories.
- August 10, 2010: The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 is signed into law by President Obama, changing pilot training requirements to include 1,500 hours of in-air training to obtain first officer certification. The previous requirement was 250 hours.
- December 2011: One of the new requirements supported by the families, establishing measures to fight pilot fatigue, takes effect.
- July 2013: Another measure backed by the families, requiring pilots to qualify for certificate training before being hired by an airline, is enacted.
- November 2013: The final safety improvement backed by the families, requiring additional in-air training for pilots, is enacted. The requirements, adopted as part of the 2010 FAA spending plan, also mandate airlines hire more pilots and adjust flight schedules to better accommodate pilot rest obligations. Airlines are given 10 years to implement these changes.
- September 2016: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sends a letter to the FAA, urging them not to bend to pressure from regional airlines to decrease pilot training requirements. Airlines have complained the increased number of hours needed to get certified has resulted in a pilot shortage; Schumer says “Any attempt to weaken or create a loophole in the requirements would be an affront both to aviation safety, the flying public and to the families affected by the Flight 3407 crash.”
- June 2017: Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduces an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would weaken the pilot training requirements, arguing that pilots should be able to combine in-flight and on-the-ground training hours toward their 1,500 hours certification mandate.
- December 8, 2017: A searchable federal database of pilot records becomes available to airlines, allowing them to check a pilot’s flight history before hiring a candidate.
- December 18, 2017: As Sen. Thune appeared prepared to abandon his amendment in favor of asking the Trump administration to roll back the 1,500 hour in-air training requirement, the 3407 families urge the administration to keep the regulations in place.
After reaching out to Sen. Thune's office, this statement from the Senate Commerce Committee forwarded to Spectrum News reads:
The FAA already has authority to award credits toward the 1,500 hour requirement for academic training courses that enhance safety, as well as for military flying. The Senate Commerce Committee’s proposal would expand the eligibility of commercial pilot flight training courses eligible for flight hour credit to include structured professional training when the FAA determines that such courses enhance safety. This modest reform promotes safety, increases training opportunities for aspiring commercial co-pilots, and keeps the core mandate of the 1,500 hour requirement intact.
The Regional Airline Association offered this statement, from President Faye Malarkey Black:
The First Officer Qualification rule has advanced safety in many important ways – particularly through new operational experience requirements for airline First Officers, such as severe weather, stall training, and altitude performance. The Rule also required part 121 airline First Officers to hold an ATP certificate for the first time. Before, the ATP certificate was required for an upgrade to Captain. Historically, the ATP certificate carried a prerequisite of 1,500 hours of flight time, and this flight time was generally gained as a pilot progressed through her or his career in a structured, commercial environment. The FOQ rule preserved the hours in flight prerequisite of the ATP, but, reflecting that hours are not the only measure of a pilot’s proficiency, that not all flying time is equal, and that opportunities for enriching flight experience before a pilot enters a commercial environment are scarce, the FAA approved alternate pathways to the cockpit where superior structured training is credited toward a portion of what would otherwise be unsupervised flying time. By promoting hours as the primary measure of proficiency, we’d leave to chance that pilots will gain mastery of critical skills by chance exposure during unstructured flying time. This hours-focused flying is often done in fair weather, without any associated supervision or training. By contrast, alternate pathways leave nothing to chance; they guarantee pilots get relevant, structured, and enriched training alongside their flight experience.
RAA’s position would change nothing about this rule and would not reduce the flight time associated with the ATP requirement. We simply want to see more of these highly effective structured training pathways that leave nothing to chance when it comes to the type of experience we want our pilots to have. Airlines have offered to finance and provide them, with comprehensive regulatory oversight and a regulatory certification that the programs are enhancing safety. Unfortunately, collective bargaining units have mischaracterized our position before the public and other concerned stakeholders again and again as a way of extracting wage benefits through a reduced labor pool. This is an unacceptable negotiating strategy. When it comes to pilot training and experience, RAA wants more of the excellent structured training pathways that have been proven to produce the safest and most highly proficient pilots. Nothing more, nothing less.