President Trump turned some heads last week when he claimed credit for zero commercial aviation fatalities in 2017, calling it a record safety year. Putting aside the fact that this safety record was based on global statistics – there hasn’t been a U.S. commercial aviation fatality in the last eight years – we hope the Administration will support current pilot training and qualification rules that we know have saved lives and helped make our aviation system the safest in the world.
These rules did not come easy, and were included in the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 only after past tragedies and lessons learned. It seems we forget too quickly.
The years leading up to 2010 were difficult to say the least for commercial aviation. The industry suffered four fatal passenger airline crashes in six years, including the 2009 Colgan Air crash that killed 50 people in Western New York. Investigations into this and other tragedies revealed serious deficiencies in airline pilot qualification and training requirements, and ultimately led to the passage of the 2010 law and the implementation of regulations from the FAA.
Based on the principle that there is no substitute for flight experience when it comes to developing sound pilot judgment and decision-making, these mandates improved pilot training and increased the minimum number of flight hours and experience required to obtain an airline pilot license. The results of the law speak for themselves. Since its passage in 2010, there has not been a single passenger fatality on a U.S. commercial airliner. In the two decades prior to the bill’s passage, more than 1,100 people had perished in airline accidents.
That should be the end of the story: before 2010 and after. Before the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act and after. Shockingly, it is not.
Thanks to regional airlines, some airport managers, and others who are ready and willing to put profits ahead of safety, these life-saving protections are now in jeopardy. You see, the robust training requirements mandated by Congress have cut into the profit margins of some regional airlines, which would prefer to rush recently licensed and relatively inexperienced pilots into the cockpit purely for cost savings. To advance their agenda to weaken critical pilot training and qualification requirements, these groups have claimed that these rules have led to a shortage of qualified pilots—an accusation that is simply not true. According to the FAA, the U.S. pilot market is actually over-saturated, with more fully qualified pilots than there are positions available.
Despite these false claims and the clear safety advantages of the current rules, there has been some effort by political leaders in Washington to weaken these rules. In June, the Senate Commerce Committee adopted an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization bill that would drastically diminish these critical, life-saving requirements. Additionally, an FAA stakeholder advisory group recommended harmful changes to some of these same requirements, despite strong objections from transportation labor.
Let me say that again: there are ongoing attempts to dismantle rules, regulations, and legislation that have been proven to save lives.
It is disheartening that it took a national tragedy to serve as a wake-up call for increased safety regulations, but is absolutely disgusting that the consequences of lax regulation have been so quickly forgotten. Safety must not be abandoned in the pursuit of profits and deregulation.
It would be careless and irresponsible for political leaders to consider policies that so clearly put lives at risk. Continuing to uphold the flight experience and training requirements that have kept Americans safe for the past seven years — and have contributed to the safest year on record for the aviation industry — must be a priority for all of us. Anything less is unacceptable.