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Bill Boosts Pilot Training Requirements, But Will It Make Skies Safer?

Locations in this article:  Buffalo, NY

Plane flyingIn response to the deadly plane crash in Buffalo and other accidents on regional airlines, the House has approved an aviation safety bill that would beef up pilot training procedures.

If this bill passes the next stage of the legislative process, how much would it really raise the standards for pilots?

Keep reading to find out about other safety changes that may be in store …

The bill, which passed Wednesday by a landslide 409-11 vote, would boost the minimum flying time for entry-level pilots from 250 hours to 1,500 hours—six times the current standard. It also would require pilots to attain an Air Transport Pilot certificate, a measure that prevents prospective pilots from skipping flight training schools to focus on racking up all those hours in the air.

Regional air carriers have been implicated in the last six airline accidents in the United States, with poor pilot performance playing a major part in half of those.

Most notably, in February, a Continental flight crashed near the Buffalo-Niagara International airport, killing all 49 people on board. An investigation revealed that the captain and first officer made several crucial mistakes during the sequence of events leading up to the crash.

Background: Buffalo Crash Probe Raises Training, Safety Questions About Regional Airlines. Learn more with Greg Feith, Former NTSB Investigator.

Aviation instrumentsThe inspection also exposed that the captain lacked hands-on training with a vital piece of safety equipment that ended up being critical in the final seconds of the flight, when the plane underwent an aerodynamic stall. The captain had also failed several piloting skills tests before being hired.

In light of this, the bill would require pilots to go through a more strenuous, hands-on training process that would include recovering from a full stall. Previously, pilots were only taught how to avoid getting into a full stall situation.

According to the bill, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would have to enforce new screening processes for prospective pilots, set up mentoring programs that pair greenhorn pilots with seasoned veterans, and send pilots who fail skills tests to remedial training.

Voluntary measures apparently weren’t enough. Learn more: Regional Airlines Agree to Improve Procedures and Standards after Air Safety Summit

Captain SullyRenowned pilots like Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the Hudson River hero, have long argued that low pay, long hours, and stressful work environments would deter quality pilots from sticking with it, especially at regional airlines.

The young co-pilot of the flight that crashed in Buffalo was still in her first year on the job and reportedly earned less than $16,000 the prior year.

The bill does take some measures to remedy these problems. It would require the FAA to regulate how many hours airlines can force pilots to fly before they are allowed to rest. Airlines would also have to create “fatigue risk management plans,” which are programs that would assess a pilot’s schedule and notify the airlines if it is likely to cause a dangerous amount of fatigue.

As far as low pay goes, the bill’s sponsors, representatives James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, and Jerry Costello, D-Illinois, hope that raising the minimum experience necessary to be a pilot will in turn boost salaries.

The bill will now be considered in the Senate.

By Dan Bence for

Related Links: MSNBC, Buffalo News

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