WASHINGTON – Congress on Friday approved far-reaching aviation safety legislation developed in response to a deadly commuter airline crash in western New York last year.
The safety measures apply to all airlines and are the first comprehensive attempt in decades to revise rules governing pilots. They would force airlines to hire more-experienced pilots, investigate pilots’ previous employment more thoroughly and train them better. The legislation also requires a major overhaul of rules governing pilot work schedules to prevent fatigue.
The Senate approved the measure without debate, following similar action by the House late Thursday night. President Barack Obama is pleased Congress has acted “to ensure that we will use the best available evidence to make our aviation system as safe as possible” and plans to sign the bill into law, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.
The impetus for the safety measures was the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo-Niagara International Airport on Feb. 12, 2009. All 49 people aboard and one man in a house were killed. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation faulted actions by the pilots and deficiencies in pilot hiring and training by Colgan Air, the regional carrier that operated the flight for Continental Airlines.
All of the past six fatal airline accidents in the U.S. involved regional carriers. Pilot performance was a contributing factor in four of those cases.
Major airlines are increasingly outsourcing short-haul flights to regional carriers, which now account for more than half of all domestic flights.
The bill, said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will make “an extraordinary difference to aviation safety.”