FAA boosts training requirements for regional airline pilots

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is boosting the training requirements for pilots who are at the controls of regional airplanes.

The rule changes close a loophole that has angered relatives of victims of a 2009 Colgan Airlines crash in Buffalo, N.Y. that prompted the FAA to boost the training requirements for major commercial airline pilots earlier this year.

The FAA announced in July that major airline pilots will have at least 1,500 hours of flying experience before they take the helm of planes that are carrying passengers.

The agency said on Tuesday that it was now including regional airline in the more strignent training requirements.

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The announcement was cheered by safety advocates as a victory for airline passengers, who they said are often not able to tell the difference between regional and major airlines because the smaller companies contract with larger carriers to operate short-distance flights on their behalf.

“As we learned all too well following the crash of Flight 3407, pilot training can mean the difference between life and death,” Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The flying public owes its thanks to the persistence and tireless advocacy of the dedicated families of those aboard Flight 3407, who never stopped fighting to keep these flight safety reforms a priority in Washington, D.C.”

“When passengers board planes in the United States, they should have full confidence that the pilots in the cockpit have been trained to the highest standards,” Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) added. “The crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 exposed gaps in pilot training requirements that these rules will close. I appreciate the FAA’s continued focus on keeping the flying public safe."

The new FAA rules will include requiring regional airline pilots to conduct flight simulator tests that mirror the engine problems that were experienced by the Colgan Air plane.

The 2009 crash, which killed 50 people, was partially blamed on pilot error.

The FAA's new experience threshold is a huge jump from the 250 flight hours previously required.

The agency has separately increase the amount of time pilots are required to be given to rest between work shifts to combat fatigue.

-This story was updated with new information at 3:02 p.m.