Rightly or wrongly, pilot training is on many people’s minds in light of the Asiana Airlines crash, but prior to the accident that stole two passengers’ lives, there was Colgan Air flight 3407.
The 2009 crash of the Colgan Air flight from Newark to Buffalo, New York, which was marketed as a Continental Connection trip, killed all 49 people on board, and one person on the ground. Before the Asiana accident in San Francisco, it was the most recent commercial airline flight in the U.S. involving fatalities.
The FAA cited the wishes of the families of Colgan flight 3407 in announcing today that it is making more stringent the qualification requirements for co-pilots flying for U.S. commercial and cargo airlines.
In a pending rule, co-pilots, formally known as first officers, will be required to put in at least 1,500 hours as pilots in order to get their Airline Transport Pilot certificate. Previously they only needed a commercial pilot certificate that comes after a mere 250 hours of flight experience.
The FAA will also mandate that co-pilots be rated on an aircraft type, and that requires additional training.
“The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “With this rule and our efforts to address pilot fatigue — both initiatives championed by the families of Colgan flight 3407 — we’re making a safe system even safer.”
John Kausner lives a mile from the Colgan air crash site in Clarence Center, New York, and he lost his daughter in the tragedy.
“This new rule does what we asked them to do,” says Kausner, who does a lot of the work in Washington, D.C., for the Families of Continental Flight 3407. “It’s going to make a difference.”
“I lost my daughter,” Kausner adds. “I will never be able to walk her down the aisle.”
Kausner is hopeful about the new provision mandating that co-pilots have additional training on a specific aircraft type.
Without making any judgments about the Asiana crash, Kausner says for whatever reasons the pilots on board “didn’t respond” adequately when the Boeing 777 was threatened with a stall.
The new rules, however, only come into play for U.S. airlines.
In the Colgan Air crash, the pilots had plenty of hours of experience, but “neither one of them really knew how to fly the plane,” Kausner says.
An NTSB investigation of the tragedy found that the pilot and co-pilot didn’t adequately respond to stall warnings, and fatigue was a contributing factor.
The announcement about the new rule comes just days after the Asiana crash, which had an experienced pilot at the helm who was inexperienced on a Boeing 777, and it also marks the beginnings of Anthony Foxx’s tenure as DOT secretary.
“Safety will be my overriding priority as Secretary, so I am especially pleased to mark my first week by announcing a rule that will help us maintain our unparalleled safety record,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We owe it to the traveling public to have only the most qualified and best trained pilots.”
Kausner says the Colgan Air families have known for several weeks that an announcement about the new rule was forthcoming, and he doesn’t think the Asiana crash contributed to the timing.
The FAA’s rules on pilot training and how they impact regional airlines become all the more important as the profile of regional airlines rises with mainline airlines abandoning many smaller airports and cities.
There has been some pushback from regional airlines about the rules, Kausner says, as they claim they are already facing a pilot shortage, and the more stringent requirements would make filling pilot jobs even more difficult.
Kausner scoffs at these claims, citing the plethora of pilot furloughs that should help recruitment efforts.
The new rules should also reverse a trend in the regional airline sector that was “letting people in the second seat [co-pilots] with fewer hours,” Kausner says.
Says Kausner: “None of us are going to get our loved ones back.”