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Flight 3407 families tell Trump: back your words on air safety

WBFO file photo

President Donald Trump's Twitter message, in which he seemingly takes credit for "the safest year on record" in the commercial flight industry in 2017, has drawn criticism from a local congressman and a written response from the families of victims of the nation's last deadly passenger airliner crash.

Trump's tweet on Tuesday read as follows: "Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!"

It was the safest record globally but, in fact, the last fatal commercial passenger airliner crash in the United States happened in February 2009, when Continental Flight 3407 went down in Clarence, killing all 49 people aboard and one person on the ground.

The National Transportation Safety Board's subsequent investigation concluded pilot inexperience played a leading role in the crash. Since the tragedy, relatives of the victims campaigned for updated flight safety regulations, including stricter pilot training.

Legislation was passed and in August 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act into law. Airlines were given three years to comply.

Congressman Brian Higgins, when asked about Trump's tweet, called it insulting to the families of Flight 3407 victims.

"These safety measures were developed with these families. It had nothing to do with this president or even the previous president," Higgins said. "It was their hard work in persuading Congress that they needed to act in order to protect the flying public."

The families of Flight 3407 victims have sent a letter to the White House, urging President Trump to stick to his claim of being "strict on commercial aviation" by upholding the new rules for which they campaigned.

John Kausner's daughter, Elly, was among the victims. He says since passage of updated regulations, the airline industry has lobbied to roll the rules back, claiming economic hardships including more difficulty recruiting pilots. 

"We just want an opportunity to talk to the (Trump) Administration, to present our side of it," Kausner said. "Since the Act was passed eight years ago, we've had no fatalities in the United States in commercial airlines. It's clearly due to the increased training, the fatigue rule passed to give pilots more rest and many other components of the law." 

Kausner said the entire roster of federal lawmakers representing Western New York, including Higgins and fellow Congressmen Chris Collins and Tom Reed as well as Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have remained supportive of the families. 

While he says families of the victims were surprised by Trump's tweet, Kausner would not suggest any feelings of disrespect.

"I think we've chosen to take the position that we're happy he's paying attention," he said. "We'd like to work with him and continue that."

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