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DOT Secretary says Flight 3407 pilot rule is hurting airline industry

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says she is open to changing pilot training regulations.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says she is open to changing pilot training regulations that would roll back the 1500 rule enacted after the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence nine years ago.

In a video interview on the Washington Post website Thursday, Chao said the First Officer Qualification rule requiring pilots of commercial airliners to have 1500 hours of flight time is hurting the industry.

"That is actually made it so much harder for so many other experienced veterans and flying to enter this field," she continued. "This is obviously a very sensitive topic and until Congress advises us otherwise, it's very hard for us to do anything on that obviously, because we have to comply with the rules and regulations and the law."

Choa indicated her wish for change.

"I think there needs to be a robust discussion," Shao said, "because, obviously, if we hold the memories of those we have lost in our hearts and we do not ever want to see an accident like that - any accident - ever occur, but there is this side effect, unanticipated, corollary impact of reducing the number of pilots, pilots who can safety fly in our skies."

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo), who pushed for the tougher regulations on behalf of Flight 3407 families, said Congress has already held hearings on the issue and taken action. Higgins said Chao's comments ignore what he describes as the "verifiable fact that trained pilots save lives."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also pushed for the rule change and said it has made the airline indutry safer.

“It is dangerous and outrageous that the Department of Transportation would even suggest watering down the First Officer Qualification rule, which has done so much to improve air passenger safety," Schumer said. "Not only is it an affront to the 3407 families’ efforts over the last nine years, but will also  put the safety of the traveling public at great risk."

Schumer said he will fight to keep the rule intact.

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