Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 2, 2013

FAA lags on fulfilling airline safety law passed after deadly Flight 3407 crash in Clarence

Niagara Gazette — WASHINGTON — Faced with substantial industry opposition, federal regulators are struggling to implement a sweeping aviation safety law enacted after the last fatal U.S. airline crash nearly four years ago, according to a report by a government watchdog.

The Federal Aviation Administration is experiencing lengthy delays in putting in place rules required by the law to increase the amount of experience necessary to be an airline pilot, provide more realistic pilot training and create a program where experienced captains mentor less experienced first officers, according to the report by the Department of Transportation's Inspector General. The report was obtained by The Associated Press.

The FAA is also running into problems creating a new, centralized electronic database that airlines can check prior to hiring pilots, the report said. The database is supposed to include pilots' performance on past tests of flying skills.

In each case, the agency has run into significant opposition from the airline industry, the report said.

"To effectively implement these initiatives in a timely manner, (the) FAA must balance industry concerns with a sustained commitment to oversight," the report said.

Congress passed the law a year and a half after the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of a regional airliner in Clarence that killed all 49 people aboard and a man on the ground. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the accident highlighted weaknesses in pilot training, tiring work schedules, lengthy commutes and relatively low experience levels for pilots at some regional carriers.

The accident was due to an incorrect response by the flight's captain to two key safety systems, causing an aerodynamic stall that sent the plane plummeting into a house below, the NTSB investigation concluded.

"The law is only as strong as the regulations that come from it so this (implementation) process is the true measuring stick of how this law will ultimately be viewed," said Kevin Kuwik, spokesman for a group of family members of victims killed in the crash. The family members lobbied relentlessly for passage of the safety law. Kuwik lost his girlfriend, 30-year-old Lorin Maurer, in the accident.

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