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Congress Set to Pass New Airline Safety Policies

**Editor’s note: The House and Senate have passed the safety rules, which should be signed into law soon.**

The Associated Press (AP) reports that Congress appears ready to pass a set of safety reforms, though in true congressional fashion, the vote is happening at last minute because agreement could not be reached on a larger bill.

Some background: Congress has been trying for years to pass a broad bill, known as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, the centerpiece of which is the FAA’s $40 billion upgrade to our nation’s air traffic control system. That bill, however, is being held up over a provision that would open Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., to flights to and from destinations greater than 1,250 miles from Reagan. The current 1,250-mile perimeter is a noise-reducing measure designed to keep large aircraft out of Reagan.

However, the FAA’s authority apparently expires Sunday, so Congress is scrambling to pass an extension. In the process, it decided to add safety measures included in the Reauthorization Act and pass those too.

Now that we’re caught up, how about the security measures themselves? Many of them are more or less the direct result of the crash of Colgan Flight 3407 outside of Buffalo last year. The main component is a significant increase in the number of hours of experience required to be hired by an airline, from 250 to 1,500. The pilots operating Flight 3407 had 3,379 and 2,244 hours of experience, respectively, at the time of the crash.

This is a major hike in mandatory pre-hire cockpit time, and sets a high bar for incoming pilots. The increase may also result in regional carriers, such as Colgan, raising their base starting pay for new hires. Pilot pay, or the lack thereof, was a major point in the Colgan investigation.

The rules also require an update to service time, specifically how many hours a pilot is allowed to fly before rest is permitted. Airlines would also be required to implement fatigue risk management systems, which alert airlines to pilot schedules that are likely to induce fatigue.

According to the AP, “Other provisions address pre-employment screening of pilots, create mentoring programs between experienced pilots and newly hired pilots, and provide remedial training for pilots who have performed poorly on skills tests.”

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