Families of plane crash victims seek commitment from Trump on safety rules

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The families of victims who died in a 2009 airplane crash are seeking a commitment from President Trump to protect aviation safety rules after he boasted this week that his administration has been “very strict” on commercial aviation.

On Tuesday Trump took credit for reports that 2017 was the safest global year of commercial airline travel, even though the U.S. has not seen a deadly crash in years. 

The last fatal crash involving a U.S. passenger airline was the 2009 Colgan Air crash in New York, which killed 49 people on board and one person on the ground. 

{mosads}Stricter training requirements for pilots were put in place following the deadly incident, but there have been growing efforts to roll back the rules under the Trump administration.

“We ask for your pledge to ensure that the crucial safety reforms that we have achieved are not changed in any way as the regional airlines, their lobbyists, and certain members of Congress pressure [Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao] to lower the flight hour experience requirements for entry-level regional airline first officers,” the coalition wrote in a letter to Trump on Wednesday.

As another holiday season passes for us with an empty chair at our tables, we call on you to honor their memory by preserving these critical safety standards that were paid for in blood.”

Following the Colgan crash, in which pilot error was to blame, victims’ family members pressed Congress for stricter regulations for regional air carriers. 

Lawmakers ended up adding language to an aviation bill that increased the minimum number of flight training hours from 250 to 1,500 for first officers who want to obtain a license to fly commercial passenger airliners. Congress also required the creation of an electronic pilot records database to help with the screening and hiring of pilots. 

But the stricter training requirements have been under fire from regional air carriers and rural communities, who argue that the standards have fueled a pilot shortage because it’s harder to find qualified pilots. They also say the rule has led to flight cancellations in some cases.  

An industry-led panel approved a report last year recommending that the Trump administration roll back or ease dozens of aviation safety rules, including the 1,500-hour training requirement. 

That has raised some concern that Trump, who has put a heavy emphasis on reducing regulations, would back the panel’s recommendation to ease the 1,500-hour training rule.

There is already some support on Capitol Hill for the idea.  Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, attached language to a long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last year that would have allowed pilots to receive flight-training credit through alternative means.

But the language has faced fierce opposition from Democrats and the families of the Colgan crash victims, who attribute the commercial airline industry’s stellar safety record since 2009 with the stricter training rules. 

Since being signed into law, these provisions have served as a catalyst for the safest period of commercial air travel in our nation’s history, which will be nine years with no fatal crashes on the anniversary of the crash next month,” the coalition wrote. 

“Prior to that, there were six fatal crashes, all on regional carriers, between 2003 and 2009 — a period in which the FAA essentially allowed the airlines to hold themselves accountable, to the detriment of our loved ones.”

Tags Donald Trump Elaine Chao John Thune

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