Schumer Says Watered Down Safety Regulations Could Be Dangerous

February 13, 2011 Updated Feb 13, 2011 at 7:26 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Schumer Says Watered Down Safety Regulations Could Be Dangerous

February 13, 2011 Updated Feb 13, 2011 at 7:26 PM EDT

( release ) U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to resist any effort to water down airline safety regulations passed in August 2010, in light of a recent letter from the Air Transport Association (ATA) to the Chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform claiming “much of the regulations we face are unproven, unnecessarily burdensome, and adversely impacts growth, profitability, and job creation in our industry.”

The safety legislation was drafted in the wake of tragic crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 on February 12, 2009 in Buffalo. It requires implementation of a rule strengthening training programs for crew members, including pilots, flight attendants, engineers, and dispatchers, to be in effect by October 2011 and requires reducing pilot duty time to combat fatigue. Crafted by Schumer and families of the victims, the legislation was designed to ensure that all pilots, including those on regional carriers, have greater training and are more alert during flight time. Schumer noted that any efforts to water-down safety regulations reducing training and fatigue could create a danger to flyers.

“Rather than work to water-down vital safety regulations, we need the airline industry to come to the table to ensure we have the greatest possible protections for airplane passengers,” said Schumer. “The airline industry needs to recognize that the safer passengers feel, the more likely they will be to fly. Greater safety standards benefit the industry and most importantly, benefit the American public.”

The ATA letter was sent to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after Committee Chairman, Darrel Issa, requested the association provide comment on regulations they believe create a “financial and business impact.” In their response to Issa, the ATA cited regulations including those requiring more crewmember training and setting flight time and duty limits to combat fatigue as being onerous to the industry. The effort to scale-back these safety regulations appears to be an attempt by the industry to team up with what it views as a new, anti-regulatory House. In his letter to the ATA, Schumer strongly disagreed with the contention that aviation safety regulations have any appreciable impact on employment levels or compromise corporate profits. He noted the safer people feel the more likely they will be to fly.

This attempt by the airline association to team with Chairman Issa and water down flight safety regulations is all the more troubling after a recent investigative report by ABC News found that, two years after the Flight 3407 crash, conditions that cause pilot fatigue remain rampant in the industry. ABC News uncovered pilots sleeping in chairs in airport lounges as well as illegal boarding houses around airports. The report noted that many pilots, particularly those who work for regional carriers similar to the Colgan Air, are afforded little-to-no stipend for board when traveling and choose to sleep in less than optimal situations because they cannot afford accommodations. In doing so, pilots often fail to get uninterrupted, optimal sleep before piloting aircraft.

In his letter to FAA Administrator Babbit, Schumer made clear he strongly disagrees that aviation safety regulations have any impact on employment levels and urged the agency to resist any efforts to implement rules that put corporate profits ahead of passenger safety.

“Pilot fatigue remains a widespread problem that must be addressed, and we simply cannot afford to scale back rules that will get pilots the rest and training they need to fly,” Schumer said. “Efforts to do so tend to undermine the flying public’s confidence and is a sure-fire formula to drive passengers away. I urge the airline industry to work collaboratively to implement rules that maximize passenger safety because they are a win-win for passengers and the industry.”

Yesterday marks the two-year anniversary of the tragic Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash near Buffalo, New York which claimed fifty lives. Pilot error was cited as a leading factor in that accident, and the copilot complained of fatigue during the flight, which may have affected her performance. From this accident, a national effort to overhaul flight safety emerged as it became clear that more needed to be done to ensure pilots and copilots are properly trained and fully rested before taking to the skies. An examination was conducted of many elements of air travel safety, ranging from the proper notification of the precise airline a commuter will use when buying a ticket, to the way the air travel industry trains and utilizes pilots and co-pilots. Finding these standards lacking, Congress passed aviation safety legislation requiring the FAA to establish stronger flight and duty time regulations, which resulted in a 13 hour maximum work period to combat pilot fatigue, and requiring FAA to finalize regulations strengthening crewmember training. These new regulations will ensure one level of safety between mainline and regional airlines by requiring all carriers meet the same standards for crewmember training and fatigue prevention.

Copies of Schumer’s letters to the FAA and the ATA can be found below.

February 13, 2011

Nicholas E. Calio

President and CEO

Air Transport Association

1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Suite 1100 Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mr. Calio:

As someone who has worked assiduously with travel industry experts and families of those who lost their lives in an avoidable air travel tragedy, I was concerned to learn that the Air Transport Association (ATA) is seeking to weaken the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) proposed fatigue and crewmember training rules for airlines. In a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the ATA expressed concern regarding the potential “financial and business impact” of these rules.

As someone who cares deeply about the strength of the air travel industry, I believe strongly that this is a mistake and respectfully urge the ATA not to pursue this effort. Instead, I urge you to work collaboratively with the various stakeholders on this issue to implement rules that maximize passenger safety. To do so will strengthen the economic health of the air travel industry by increasing the confidence of the flying public. Conversely, undermining that confidence sends a terrible message to the flying public that jeopardizes industry support.

Two years ago this week, Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo, New York and claimed fifty lives. Pilot error was cited as a leading factor in that accident, and we know that the copilot complained of fatigue during the flight, which may have affected her performance. From this accident, we learned that more needs to be done to ensure pilots and copilots are properly trained and fully rested before taking to the skies. In the wake of this tragedy, the families of those who lost their lives in the crash came together to work on legislation and regulations to overhaul FAA safety standards, including pilot training and fatigue rules. These courageous families fought to improve FAA safety standards to make the skies safer for us all.

Your organization recently wrote about pilot fatigue and crewmember training rules to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in response to their request for regulations that allegedly prevent job creation. I am also eager to see more jobs created in industries such as yours, and, in fact, have a long record of promoting increased air travel in every corner of my state, but I do not agree that aviation safety regulations have any appreciable impact on employment levels. The safer people feel, the more likely they will be to fly and vice-versa.

The facts surrounding the tragic crash of flight 3407 led to a deep examination of many elements of air travel safety ranging from the proper notification of the precise airline a commuter will use when buying a ticket, to the way the air travel industry trains and utilizes pilots and co-pilots, and, frankly, that system was found lacking. The regulations you seek to weaken are the result of a careful examination of flaws in air travel safety and are an effort to strengthen the overall system, which will benefit both the flying public and the industry, because the use of that system is directly linked to the highest possible degree of safety. Again, I strongly urge you not to oppose these necessary and proper safety rules. We simply cannot afford to ignore the tragic lessons that were learned from Flight 3407’s crash and other tragedies.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact my Washington, DC office at 202-224-6542.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

February 13, 2011

Dear Administrator Babbitt:

I write to express deep concern with a recent effort by the airline industry to weaken aviation safety regulations currently being promulgated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In a recent letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Air Transport Association (ATA) expressed concern regarding the potential “financial and business impact” of FAA’s proposed fatigue and crewmember training rules for airlines. As you are finalizing these important rules, I urge you to keep the safety of the public as your top priority.

Two years ago this week, Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo, New York and claimed fifty lives. Pilot error was cited as a leading factor in that accident, and we know that the copilot complained of fatigue during the flight, which may have affected her performance. From this accident, we learned that more needs to be done to ensure pilots and copilots are properly trained and fully rested before taking to the skies. In the wake of this tragedy, the families of those who lost their lives in the crash came together to work on legislation and regulations to overhaul FAA safety standards, including pilot training and fatigue rules. These courageous families fought to improve FAA safety standards to make the skies safer for us all.

The ATA raised its concerns to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in response to Chairman Issa’s request for them to identify regulations that allegedly prevent job creation. I do not agree that aviation safety regulations have any appreciable impact on employment levels, nor should public safety be compromised in the name of corporate profits. As someone who cares deeply about aviation safety, as well as the strength of the air travel industry, I urge you to work collaboratively with the various stakeholders on this issue to implement robust rules that maximize passenger safety. To do so will increase the safety of our skies while strengthening the economic health of the air travel industry by increasing the confidence of the flying public.

The facts surrounding the tragic crash of flight 3407 led to a deep examination of many elements of air travel safety ranging from the proper notification of the precise airline a commuter will use when buying a ticket, to the way the air travel industry trains and utilizes pilots and co-pilots, and, frankly, that system was found lacking. The regulations that the ATA is seeking to weaken are the result of a careful examination of flaws in air travel safety and are an effort to strengthen the overall system, which will benefit both the flying public and the industry, because the use of that system is directly linked to the highest possible degree of safety.

I strongly believe that FAA must not waver in undertaking its rulemaking. Instead, we must forge ahead with robust rules that will truly advance our shared goal of improving aviation safety. Thank you for your attention to the important matter. If you have any questions or need additional information please contact my Washington, DC office at 202-224-6542.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer