If Washington rolls back airline safety, your flight could be at risk
© Getty

Whether you’re a member of Congress flying home for the August recess or a vacationer visiting the nation’s capital on summer break, you’re among the millions of airline passengers and air cargo shippers who count on the extraordinary level of safety offered by U.S. air transportation.

This high level of safety is no accident — but important data used to make air transportation safer can come from one. Before Congress called for updated standards, the United States had experienced four fatal airline accidents in six years.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reviewed these four accidents, as well as others that had occurred during the previous decade, with the goal of understanding how to prevent similar accidents. The investigation exposed serious deficiencies in airline pilot qualification and training requirements. The FAA also found that these deficiencies had played a role in many of the accidents.

 

Ask any airline pilot, and he or she will tell you that there simply is no substitute for flight experience. Seated in the cockpit, a pilot uses his or her senses to evaluate the aircraft and the environment to determine what is necessary to ensure a safe and secure flight. Judgment that can only be learned over time also influences his or her decision-making. For pilots, no shortcut or simulator exists that provides the same benefit as time and training in flight.

In response to these accidents, Congress passed the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010. The act requires new-hire first officers to have more experience and meet safer qualification standards. The resulting collection of regulations covered minimum training and qualifications in a range of areas, including flight in adverse weather and icing, stall recognition and avoidance, aircraft handling, crewmember mentoring, and an overhaul of the basic air transport pilot certificate requirements and type ratings. These sweeping actions by Congress, and subsequent FAA regulations, were a watershed regulatory advancement — and have contributed to making air travel the safest mode of transportation. 

Since passage of the landmark air safety measure, there have been no U.S airline passenger fatalities in air carrier operations. In the two decades prior to the 2010 law, more than 1,100 passengers lost their lives in airline accidents.

Despite this clear record of success in making our skies safer, profit-minded special-interest groups are actually trying to gut these air safety rules and put the flying public at risk. Thankfully, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee flatly rejected this approach and voted to keep flying safe in the United States as part of its FAA reauthorization bill. Unfortunately, the pending Senate FAA reauthorization bill includes a provision to weaken the minimum training and qualification requirements for pilots. 

Those lobbying against this passenger safety measure are peddling “alternate facts” and suggesting that these rules have had a negative impact on pilot availability. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that, according to the FAA, we currently have more fully qualified pilots in the United States than there are positions available.

However, we do need to make sure we have an adequate future supply of qualified pilots — earning good salaries — and guard against efforts to reduce safety, especially as it relates to pilot training and qualifications. We’re fully committed to doing what it takes to keep the pilot pipeline strong and our skies safe. But weakening critical and effective safety provisions that are keeping the flying public safe will never be the answer to a pilot-supply challenge, real or imagined.

Capt. Tim Canoll is the tenth president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, which represents more than 57,000 airline pilots at 33 U.S. and Canadian airlines.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.