Regional air safety worries senators
WASHINGTON - Four senators, including the chairman of the Senate's aviation panel, have asked a government watchdog to investigate safety enforcement at regional airlines.
In a letter released yesterday, the senators told Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel that the circumstances of the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo in February raised questions about the Federal Aviation Administration's enforcement of regulations related to pilot training and crew rest at regional carriers.
"Adequate pilot training and rest is a basic prerequisite to make certain the air transportation system achieves a high level of safety," the letter said. "Such regulations, however, must be paired with vigorous FAA oversight of airline compliance to have a credible effect."
Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota and chairman of the commerce committee's aviation subcommittee, also raised the issue with Randy Babbitt, who was nominated by President Obama to head the FAA, at a confirmation hearing yesterday.
Dorgan said he was "just furious" about testimony during a National Transportation Safety Board hearing last week suggesting that flaws in pilot hiring and training, as well as fatigue, may have contributed to the Feb. 12 crash, which killed all 49 people aboard and one man on the ground.
Dorgan asked Babbitt if the same safety standards that apply to larger airlines also apply to regional carriers.
Babbitt is a former Air Line Pilots Association president and one time Eastern Airlines pilot.
He said that there once were less rigorous standards for regional carriers, but that changes he helped develop in the early 1990s were supposed to bring regional airlines up to the same safety standards as larger carriers.
Dorgan said he plans to hold a hearing June 10 on safety at regional airlines.
Executives for regional airlines, meeting in Salt Lake City yesterday for an industry convention, defended the experience and professionalism of their pilots, saying the NTSB hearing had skewed public perception.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there," said Joseph D. Randell, president and chief executive of
"Anybody with an agenda will use it."