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Schumer, families of Flight 3407 reject call for eased pilot training rules

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

An advisory committee that serves the airline industry is recommending the Federal Aviation Administration roll back a key requirement for pilots to obtain licenses to fly commercial jets. Senator Charles Schumer says he, and the families of victims of Flight 3407, will fight to block such a change.

Pilots are now required to record 1,500 hours of flight experience before they are allowed to fly passenger jets. It's one of the changes implemented by the FAA at the urging of Congress following the February 2009 crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence. Fifty people died in that crash.

The Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, which is comprised of representatives from the airline industry, its unions and safety groups,  is recommending that the FAA lower the required hours of experience, if those pilots receive adequate academic training by their airlines. The panel suggests the current rules are making it tougher for airlines to hire pilots, stating "the rule imposes costs that exceed benefits." 

Critics say the suggested change compromises quality and safety.

"I can't imagine why you'd change that rule. It's working so effectively," said John Kausner, father of Flight 3407 victim Ellyce Kausner. "My wife said it today, if you need a doctor and we had a doctor shortage in Western New York, we'd say get through your third year of college and you become a doctor. We don't do that."

Senator Schumer says human error was to blame for Flight 3407's crash but had the pilot received more training and experience, those who perished might instead be alive today.

"When you're a pilot you have to train in adverse conditions," Schumer said. "What happened with 34-7 was there was ice on the wings and one of the levers jammed. There was a way to solve it but the pilot didn't know it because he didn't have enough training. That's why those people died."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also expressed her opposition to proposed air safety changes in a written statement: “It’s no coincidence that we haven’t had a tragedy like Flight 3407 recently – because the rules are working and they have made air travel safer. I will fight with Senator Schumer to block this dangerous change to the rules, and I urge all of my colleagues from both parties to stand with the incredible Flight 3407 families, who have fought tirelessly to achieve one level of safety for everyone.”

Schumer, meanwhile, said while the airlines have their lobbyists, his side includes the families of Flight 3407's victims. He also suggests that if airlines want to attract more pilots, they could start by raising wages.

"There's a shortage of pilots because the starting salary in some places, here it's around $21,000, and in some places it could be as low as $16,000," Schumer said. "You're not going to get many people to be pilots when you can make more flipping hamburgers at McDonalds."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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