As the Federal Aviation Administration finalized new, more stringent training requirements for commercial airline pilots Wednesday, some lawmakers urged the agency to push international carriers to adopt the same standards or ban them from flying to the United States.
The agency developed its new rules in response to the 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight 3407, near Buffalo, N.Y., in which all 50 people aboard perished. But Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Brian Higgins, both Democrats from New York, said last Saturday’s fatal crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 in San Francisco demonstrated the need for tougher regulations for overseas carriers as well.
“Simply put: Foreign airlines should require their pilots to undergo rigorous training, just as we are now making American pilots do, before flying in the U.S.,” Schumer said in a statement. “If not, the FAA should consider limiting that carrier’s ability to fly in and out of the United States.”
Schumer and Higgins, who authored the law that led to the new guidelines, wrote a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Wednesday urging the agency to put the new rules in place as soon as possible. The lawmakers also want the FAA to propose that the United Nations’ civil aviation body adopt the requirements in order to create a seamless international standard.
“There is no reason American passengers should be put at risk by poorly trained pilots in other countries,” Schumer said Wednesday.
While it could be weeks before the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board release their preliminary report on the Asiana crash, many have questioned whether the South Korean pilot of the Boeing 777 had adequate training to fly the aircraft.
The plane came in too slowly and hit the seawall at the end of the runway, losing its tail section before skidding to a stop and catching fire. Two passengers died and more than 100 were injured, although more than 100 also walked away from the crash.
The U.S. has no authority to require any airline based in a foreign country to comply with its pilot-training rules. But Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general at the Department of Transportation, said other countries followed the International Civil Aviation Organization. The U.N. body is scheduled to meet in October.
“All the world’s aviation nations are supposed to conform to the ICAO standards,” Schiavo said. “If we can get them to increase them, other countries will, too.”
Schiavo said the FAA had used its power to block other countries from flying into the United States, though not often.
“The FAA doesn’t give very many countries a failing grade,” she said.
Investigators determined that inadequate pilot training had contributed to the Colgan crash, spurring the new FAA rules. Though the rules probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the Asiana accident, they’d increase qualification requirements for U.S. pilots of passenger and cargo craft.
Under the new rules, co-pilots would need 1,500 hours of flying time instead of 250, and certification to fly specific aircraft.
“The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier,” Huerta said in a statement, referring to co-pilots.
The rules also would require pilots in command to have 1,000 hours in air carrier operations, including as co-pilots.
“We owe it to the traveling public to have only the most qualified and best trained pilots,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
Schumer noted the similarities in the circumstances that led to the Asiana and the Colgan accidents, more than four years apart, in which both planes lost speed before they crashed.
Schumer and Higgins also asked the FAA to implement another set of rules on crew member training, safety management and pilot simulation training before an October deadline, and to encourage other countries to adopt them.
“When the U.S. leads, other nations follow,” Schumer said, “especially with a little prodding.”
By Curtis Tate
McClatchy Washington Bureau