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Republic Airways petitions FAA to cut training hours in half for its new pilots

A Republic Airways jet.
Wikimedia Commons

Thirteen years after the fatal crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence in 2009, Congress passed new safety rules that included much more flying time for trainee pilots before they could sit in the cockpit of commercial airlines.

Now, one airline wants an exemption to the rule. Republic Airways, the nation's second-largest regional airline, has asked the FAA to be able to hire new pilots with half the flight training hours.

Republic is based in Indianapolis and flies regional routes for American, Delta and United airlines. It wants to use its own flight school and per military-trained pilots, who are typically certified with half the flying hours of civilian pilots.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo), who helped get the new safety rules passed after four crew members and 45 passengers died on Flight 3407, said, "No way, no how." He talked with WBFO Reporter Mike Desmond.

Mike Desmond: The airlines are fighting back.

 The crash site of Flight 3407 in Clarence in 2009.
File Photo
The crash site of Flight 3407 in Clarence in 2009.

Brian Higgins: But this is the law of the land. It's going to stick. And we will fight this very aggressively, against the airlines' attempts to circumvent a law that was put into place born out of tragedy and was a major reason for the crash of 3407. And that is lack of pilot training. Even the families of the victims were very clear that they never blamed the pilots themselves. They blame the system that allowed the pilots to be in the cockpit without proper training. There is no way that we're going to stand by idly while a regional carrier tries to circumvent the law that was 13 years in the making and that is intended to do one thing, and that is protect, keep safe, the flying public.

Desmond: Obviously, you had to fight the FAA every step of the way in doing this in the first place. Are you worried they're gonna say, we were right, let's do this.

Higgins: No. The Transportation Safety Board that investigates these crashes were very clear, early on, that pilot error, lack of adequate training, lack of adequate rest were major contributing factors to that crash. And that's where this 1,500 hours of training came from. There were two levels of public safety as it relates to airlines. One was for the regional carriers, which was inferior to that of the larger carriers. And now there is one level of safety as the American people want. And that will stick and we will fight to ensure that.

Desmond: Did you get any notice of this?

Higgins: No. And, you know, they, the airline, didn't provide any information, any data to justify their request, They simply just want to circumvent. This provision is intended to keep the flying public safe and it's as clear as it can be. That issue of pilot training at 1,500 hours was not coincidental. That was a cause-and-effect relationship. The regional carriers have a shorter duration for pilot training. And that was a major contributing clause to the the tragedy of Flight 3407, almost 13 years ago.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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