By Keith Laing
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Wednesday it would require pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight training before they could fly a commercial airplane.
The new threshold is a huge jump from the 250 flight hours previously required, and was ordered just days after the crash of an Asiana Airlines flight in San Francisco that killed two people and injured more than 180.
The rule change is the culmination of a fight that has raged since 2009, when a Colgan Airlines regional plane crashed in Buffalo, N.Y., killing 50 people.
"Today's announcement marks a significant achievement in our fight to achieve a true 'One Level of Safety' for all commercial airline passengers, whether they are flying on regional or mainline carriers,” the group that lobbies for the Colgan crash victims, the Families of Continental Flight 3407, said in a statement.
“Every passenger setting foot on a commercial flight deserves the same level of commitment to, and investment in, safety from the carrier operating that flight, whether it be United, Pinnacle, Mesaba, or any other Part 121 carrier,” the group said.
Colgan was operating the airplane that crashed in 2009 for Continental Airlines, which has since merged with United Airlines.
Airline training has been under the microscope this week after Asiana revealed that the pilot of the jet that crashed in San Francisco, Lee Kang-guk, was training to learn how to fly the Boeing 777.
Lee, who survived the Saturday crash, had experience flying other large airplanes like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 747. But before he took control of Flight 214, had accrued only 43 hours of experience flying the Boeing 777, according to Asiana.
Federal investigators have hinted they suspect pilot error contributed to the Asiana crash.
Lawmakers have pressured the FAA to increase the standards for pilot training, and the families of the Colgan accident relentlessly lobbied for the enactment of the new rules after Congress passed a bill requiring them in 2010.
The FAA had already boosted the amount of down time that pilots must be given between flights, but the agency took much longer to increase the qualification standards for pilots.
New Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Wednesday that the change was evidence of his agency's commitment to safety.
"Safety will be my overriding priority as secretary, so I am especially pleased to mark my first week by announcing a rule that will help us maintain our unparalleled safety record,” Foxx said in a statement. “We owe it to the traveling public to have only the most qualified and best trained pilots."
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the new standards for pilots would ensure that they have the necessary experience.
"The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier,” Huerta said. “With this rule and our efforts to address pilot fatigue — both initiatives championed by the families of Colgan flight 3407 — we're making a safe system even safer."
Congress mandated both the qualification standards and the pilot rest time in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010.
Lawmakers praised the FAA's decision to implement the new rules in the wake of the Asiana accident.
“Flying in America has never been safer, but the tragic crash of Asiana Flight 214 is an urgent reminder that we must still constantly look for ways to make it even safer,” Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) said in a statement.
“I have been pushing these rules because the American flying public needs to know the government is doing everything we can to make sure the skies are safe.”
Larsen wrote a letter to Foxx last week hours after the new Transportation secretary was sworn in, asking him to making finalizing the pilot qualification rules an early priority.
— This story was originally posted at 11:46 p.m. and it was updated with new information at 4:36 p.m.