Congress on the Verge of Passing Airline Safety Bill

July 29, 2010 Updated Jul 29, 2010 at 3:03 PM EDT

By WKBW Programming

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July 29, 2010 Updated Jul 29, 2010 at 3:03 PM EDT

WASHINGTON, DC (WKBW) - Passage of the Aviation Safety Bill, that the families of the victims of the crash of Flight 3407 have been fighting for, could be getting closer.

The 3407 family group, along with the Western New York Congressional delegation, have been pushing for these changes since the Clarence Center crash.

They are asking for tougher pilot training and experience. Among the measures, the House could vote on the bill Thursday. It would then go to the Senate and then to the President for his signature.

Channel 7 spoke with some of the members of the WNY Congressional delegation, including Rep. Chris Lee (R) and Charles Schumer. Both say they are confident that passage will be soon, and credited the passion and determination of family members to advance this legislation.

Kevin Kuwick, who lost his girlfriend Lorin Mauer, told Eyewitness News, "We don't want to count our chickens before they hatch. We need to have a good day ( Thursday ) and stay on the Senate Republicans, and everything like that...but it's definitely headed in the right direction. It will be a culmination of a lot of hard work. You can't call it a celebration because of the tragedy that we're all trying to still deal with, but it still shows that something positive can come out of this."

The safety issues were taken out of the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which remains bogged down in Congress, and put into another FAA Bill, which is almost guaranteed now to pass both Houses and become law.

Eyewitness News received a call from the office of U.S. Representative for New York's 28th District, Democrat Louise Slaughter, stating that passage of this legislation could happen by the end of this week.

Soon after, United States Senator Charles Schumer's office released the following statement regarding the impending House passage of long sought aviation safety language.

It was announced today (Wednesday) that the House of Representatives will tomorrow (Thursday) take up a bill providing for a short term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Critically, that bill will also include the permanent improvements in aviation safety that Schumer and the 3407 families have long sought. The Senate is expected to take it up shortly after the House passes it.

Schumer stated, “While we have taken a long and circuitous route to get here, our ultimate goal of vastly improving aviation safety in this country is within our reach. I will say it before and say it again, it is the 3407 Families and their tireless advocacy that have made this possible. The Congress is but a conduit for their passion, drive and determination.”

Fifty people lost their lives when Continental Flight 3407 ( operated by Colgan Air ) crashed in Clarence Center, New York in February of 2009.

The office of Kirsten Gillibrand issued this release Wednesday:

GILLIBRAND PRAISES INCLUSION OF FLIGHT 3407 SAFETY PROVISIONS IN FAA EXTENSION -- EXPECTED TO PASS THIS WEEK
Recognizes the Tireless Advocacy of the Flight 3407 Families

Measure Includes Gillibrand Provisions to Force FAA to Report Back to Congress On All New Safety Recommendations

Many NTSB Safety Recommendations, Like Those Issued After Flight 3407 Investigation, Are Typically Ignored By FAA

Washington, DC – U.S Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today praised inclusion of a Flight 3407 safety provision in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Extension legislation expected to pass Congress this week. The extension includes Senator Gillibrand’s measure requiring the FAA to report back to Congress on all new safety recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigative reports. Senator Gillibrand’s other priorities, including requirements to increase training hours for commercial pilots, was also included in the FAA extension.

“The voices of the families of Flight 3407 were heard loud and clear and we will save lives because of their advocacy,” Senator Gillibrand said. “This is a major step forward in our efforts to strengthen the safety of all airline passengers. Time and time again, the FAA has ignored safety recommendations and put innocent lives at risk. My provision will change the culture of inaction and make air travel safer for all of us. Without the steadfast dedication of the Families of Flight 3407, we would not be making any of these safety improvements. They are to be commended for their incredible work.”

Senator Gillibrand’s proposal will bring accountability to the FAA by strengthening current reporting requirements to ensure that NTSB safety recommendations – like the 25 new and 3 previous recommendations included in the NTSB’s February 12, 2010 final report from the Flight 3407 incident – are reviewed and responded to, not simply acknowledged that they have been received with little more than a yes, no or maybe response.

The extension legislation includes the following requirements of the FAA:

The Secretary of Transportation must send an annual report to Congress and the NTSB detailing:

All recommendations that the Secretary has enacted or intends to enact

Details on the procedures for adoption of recommendations or parts of recommendations

Reasons for refusing to carry out all or part of recommendations

· The Secretary must include details on plans to enact recommendations that include:

A description of the recommendation

A description on the procedures to enact all or part of a recommendation

A timeline on enacting all or part of a recommendation

If the timeline is not met, detailed explanation as to why all or part of a recommendation has not been enacted on the dates the Secretary lays out

For recommendations or parts of recommendations the Secretary refuses to enact the Secretary must:

A description of the recommendation

Detailed reasons the Secretary refuses to carry out all or part of a recommendations

In May 2009, after meeting with the families of the Flight 3407 crash near Buffalo, Senator Gillibrand asked that the NTSB ensure that needed changes in the airline system are not ignored. During the NTSB investigative hearings, families heard of the system-wide failures – from training to crew member fatigue – that led to the Flight 3407 crash. Senator Gillibrand wants to ensure that needed reforms and changes in the system are implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The extension legislation also includes a proposal that Senator Gillibrand worked to advance that will raise the minimum requirements for the hiring of commercial pilots. This proposal, endorsed by the Families of Flight 3407, raises the minimum standard for new pilots from 250 hours to 1,500 hours. In addition to more flight time experience, the new regulations would increase the quality of that training, not just the quantity. These new regulations require that pilots must demonstrate effective operation of aircraft in:

· Multipilot conditions

· Adverse weather conditions, including icing conditions, as was the case with Flight 3407

· High altitude operations

· Basic standards of cockpit professionalism and operations in part of the airline industry

In June 2009, Senator Gillibrand submitted questions from the family members of victims in the Flight 3407 crash near Buffalo about fundamental failures in our aviation system at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Aviation Safety & FAA Oversight. Senator Gillibrand wanted to ensure that their questions about a variety of safety issues were answered by Agency leadership. To that end, Senator Gillibrand asked family members to submit questions to her office, and in turn, Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan agreed to submit them for the record, and were answered in writing.

In another release obtained by Eyewitness News, Congressman Chris Lee joined Louise Slaughter and Brian Higgins for a joint release:

Lee, Slaughter and Higgins Say Airline Safety Provisions Will Become Law This Week

“The lessons learned from the tragic crash of Flight 3407 will become the law of the land” say Western New York lawmakers

WASHINGTON – Congressman Chris Lee (NY-26), Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-28) and Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) today announced that the safety provisions championed by the families of Flight 3407 will be linked to the noncontroversial FAA extension bill, virtually assuring their passage by August 1.

Today Chairman of the House Transportation Committee James Oberstar of Minnesota announced that the safety provisions would be attached to a noncontroversial bill that is required for the FAA to continue its operations. FAA extensions have in the past passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

It was the effort of the families and local lawmakers that pushed to include the permanent safety measures in a bill that lawmakers were confident could be signed into law in the coming week.

“Finally, nearly a year and a half after the Flight 3407 tragedy, due to the hard and persistent work by the families who lost loved ones that night, Congress will soon send to the president’s desk long overdue aviation safety reforms,” said Rep. Lee. “With the passage of these much-needed reforms there will now be one level of safety in the skies, and the flying public can have confidence that there will be experienced, well-trained and prepared pilots in each and every cockpit.”

“The lessons we learned about regional airline industry training and standards have been shocking, not only for Western New Yorkers but for the millions of Americans who step onto an airplane each day. We needed strong, meaningful and timely legislation to make sure tragedies like the crash of flight 3407 never happen again and I’m delighted that day will finally come,” said Slaughter, Chairwoman of the House Rules Committee. “I want to thank the families who we’ve worked with time and time again in Washington for their heroic work to make this possible. After more than a year, we’ll finally be able to stand together and make these long overdue safety provisions the law of the land.”

“Today, we can say with certainty that the long fought for goal of improving our country’s aviation safety standards are within sight, approaching a great victory for the families who mourn the loss of their loved ones on the tragic Flight 3407,” said Congressman Higgins. “Thanks to the hard work of the 3407 Families, Chairman Oberstar, Subcommittee Chairman Costello, my New York colleagues Reps. Nadler, Bishop, Arcuri and McMahon, and my Western New York colleagues, these long overdue aviation safety provisions will soon be a reality. After nearly 17 months, we were finally able to move beyond talk and create the change we need and airline passengers deserve. This is a great day for the Families of 3407 victims, who through their enduring fight, provided all airline passengers and their loved ones with greater peace of mind moving forward.”

“Today was a very good day, one of the best we’ve had in a very long time,” Susan Bourque who lost her sister Beverly Eckert in the crash of Continental Connection flight 3407. “We know there’s more work to be done but we’re very hopeful that the Senate will come through for us the same way the House has. We want to thank the efforts of Congresswoman Slaughter, Congressman Lee and Congressman Higgins for their contributions in making this happen.”

Key provisions of the legislation include:

Pilot Qualifications: Requires airline pilots to hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate (1,500 minimum flight hours required; current minimum is 250 flight hours). Requires the FAA to raise the minimum requirements for the ATP certificate. Requires pilot training for effective performance in: an air carrier operational environment; adverse weather conditions, including icing; high altitude operations; and a multi-pilot crew. Enables the FAA to consider allowing certain academic training hours that may increase the level of safety above the minimum requirements to be counted towards the 1,500-hour ATP certificate requirement.

Implementation of National Transportation Safety Board Recommendations: Requires FAA to ensure that pilots are trained on stall recovery, upset recovery, and that airlines provide remedial training to pilots who need it.

Pilot Records Database: Creates a Pilot Records Database to provide airlines with fast, electronic access to a pilot’s comprehensive record. Information in the database will include: pilot licenses, aircraft ratings, check rides, notices of disapproval, other flight proficiency tests, and State motor vehicle driving records.

Fatigue: Flight and Duty Time Rule -- Directs the FAA to update and implement new pilot flight and duty time rules within one year to more adequately track scientific research in the field of fatigue. Fatigue Risk Management Systems -- Requires air carriers, within 90 days, to create fatigue risk management systems approved by FAA to proactively mitigate pilot fatigue. Commuting Study -- Studies the impact of pilot commuting on fatigue and provides preliminary results to the FAA to be considered as part of the flight and duty time rule making.

· ASAP and FOQA: Directs the FAA to develop and implement a plan to facilitate the establishment of an Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and a Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) program by all commercial airlines and their unions. Report: Requires FAA to report on ASAP, FOQA, Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA), and Advanced Qualification Program (AQP), which will include: an analysis of which airlines are using the programs or if they are using something comparable that achieves similar safety goals; how FAA will expand the use of the programs; and how FAA is using data from the programs as safety analysis and oversight tools for aviation safety inspectors.

· Truth in Advertising: Mandates that Internet websites that sell airline tickets disclose to the purchaser on the first page of the website the air carrier that operates each segment of the flight.

Timeline of actions by the Western New York lawmakers:

February 26, 2009- House Considers Lee/Slaughter/Higgins Resolution Honoring Victims of Flight 3407

· May 14, 2009- Lee, Slaughter, Higgins Call for Independent Investigation of Commercial Airline Pilot Training Programs

· May 21, 2009- House Approves Lee/Slaughter/Higgins Amendment Requiring Independent, Comprehensive Review of Commercial Airline Pilot Training Programs

· July 08, 2009- Lee, Slaughter and Higgins Successful in Pushing For Independent Review of Commercial Airline Pilot Training Programs

· July 21, 2009- Congressmembers Higgins & Lee Join Rep. Holt in Introducing House Bill Aimed at Providing ‘One Level of Aviation Safety’

· July 29, 2009- Higgins, Lee, Slaughter Lead Major Bipartisan Effort to Improve Airline Safety and Pilot Training

· October 01, 2009- Higgins, Lee and Slaughter Continue Effort to Improve Airline Safety and Pilot Training

· October 14, 2009- Higgins, Lee, Slaughter Call Bipartisan Measure a Strong First Step to Improving Airline Safety

· December 04, 2009- Higgins, Lee, Slaughter Urge Federal Aviation Administration to Implement New Guidelines on Pilot Fatigue and Pilot Commuting

· January 22, 2010- Higgins, Lee, Slaughter Urge Immediate Senate Action To Increase Aviation Safety

· February 02, 2010- Statement by Western New York Lawmakers on NTSB's Flight 3407 Final Report

· February 11, 2010- Lee, Higgins, Slaughter Demand Explanation of FAA's Delay Implementing Aviation Safety Reforms

Eyewitness News will continue to follow the progress of this legislation, including reaction from family members.