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Airline Safety -- Washington's Response


On Aug. 1, 2010, President Obama signed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (H.R. 5900), a bill that addresses some of the factors that played a role in the February 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407. The highlights of the bill include:

+  Requiring all airline pilots to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which requires a minimum of 1,500 flight hours; the previous requirement was 250 flight hours.

+  Directing the FAA to update and implement new flight and duty time rules for pilots within one year to more adequately address the results of scientific research in the field of fatigue.

+  Requiring the FAA to ensure that pilots are trained on how to recover from stalls and upsets, and that airlines provide remedial training to pilots who need it.

The Families of Flight 3407 lobbied for the bill, arguing that changes are needed to improve safety in the regional airline industry.

Babbitt's Call to Action

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has announced his own plans to address similar issues. He released a "Call to Action" on June 15, 2009, that includes a mix of rule changes and voluntary measures including new pilot fatigue rules and requests that airlines voluntarily implement safety data management systems. These systems would be mandated under H.R. 3371.

The full text of Babbitt's initial Call to Action speech and a recent update with companies' responding to his Call can be found here.

Congressional Hearings

Since the Flight 3407 crash, a number of congressional hearings have been held exploring the issues behind the tragedy. Here are three of them:

U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Aviation Regional Air Carriers and Pilot Workforce Issues hearing
June 11, 2009

Aviation Safety: The Role and Responsibility of Commercial Air Carriers and Employees
U.S. Subcommittee on Aviation, June 17, 2009

The Relationship Between Network Airlines and Regional Airlines
U.S. Subcommittee on Aviation, Aug. 6, 2009

This particular hearing includes comments from Philip Trenary, CEO of Pinnacle Airlines, and Don Gunther, vice president of safety for Continental Airlines.

In addition, the Senate Committee recently held hearings on subjects related to H.R. 3371, including FAA oversight and pilot fatigue.

Contributing to this report was Morgan Halvorsen, a print journalism major at American University’s School of Communication. Halvorsen participated in FRONTLINE’S Flying Cheap through the partnership between PBS FRONTLINE and American University's School of Communication’s Investigative Reporting Workshop.

posted february 9, 2010; updated december 8, 2010

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