Buffalo News: After 50 died in Clarence, Flight 3407 families made flying safer. Airlines are still pushing back

July 31, 2022 Media

Twelve years after then-President Barack Obama signed the aviation safety law they won through sheer force of will, the Families of Continental Flight 3407 will return to Washington on Monday to see their achievement recognized – and to resume a battle it seemed they won long ago.

The Federal Aviation Administration, often a friend and sometimes a foe to the families as they’ve pressed for safety regulations, will dedicate a plaque in their honor at the agency’s headquarters. And afterwards, the families will do what they’ve done dozens of times over more than a dozen years: head to Capitol Hill to defend key provisions of the law they pushed to passage.

To be specific, some airlines are blaming the flight cancellations and delays at the nation’s airports this summer on a pilot shortage that they say stems from the most controversial provision of that 2010 aviation safety law: a measure that requires pilots to have 1,500 hours of experience before they can fly a passenger plane. Meanwhile, some smaller airlines are seeking ways to skirt the so-called 1,500 hour rule.

But to hear William J. McGee tell it, the pilot shortage is much more complicated than that rule. Senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project and previously aviation advisor for advocacy at Consumer Reports, McGee said the airlines, not the safety regulations, are largely to blame for the pilot shortage. He said they never adapted to the 1,500 rule and cut staff during the pandemic.

“Shame on anyone in the industry who would try to use this crisis – a crisis that is literally the airline’s own making – to weaken those standards,” McGee said.