Senate, House Agree to Sixfold Boost in Airline Pilots' Flight Experience

U.S. pilots would need at least 1,500 hours of flight experience to get a job in an airline cockpit, six times the current minimum requirement, under a House-Senate agreement disclosed by a passenger advocacy group.

The agreement, part of broader aviation legislation being negotiated in Congress, was outlined by Senator Jay Rockefeller to relatives of victims in a fatal crash near Buffalo, New York, last year, according to Scott Maurer, whose daughter was killed in the accident, and who attended today’s meeting in Washington.

The deal is “very positive” and is among safety changes that “should have been happening” more than a year ago, said Kevin Kuwik of Columbus, Ohio, who said he was dating Lorin Maurer, one of 50 victims in the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s Colgan unit.

Boosting the minimum required pilot experience from 250 hours has been a top goal of friends and relatives of people who died when the plane crashed in Clarence Center, near Buffalo. Airline pilot unions and House Democrats also pushed for the higher requirement, saying it would lessen the chance of a repeat of the Colgan accident.

Rockefeller appreciates the families’ “deep commitment to a safer transportation system,” spokeswoman Jena Longo said in a statement. The senator believes legislation funding the Federal Aviation Administration, which includes the requirement, “is ready and he is hopeful that the bill will be considered this week,” she said. The West Virginia Democrat heads the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Pilot Blamed

The National Transportation Safety Board this year said Colgan Captain Marvin Renslow caused the crash by incorrectly responding to a stall warning in the cockpit. Renslow died along with all passengers, crew and one person on the ground, after the flight for Continental Airlines Inc. departed from Newark, New Jersey’s Liberty airport.

A 1,500-hour minimum exceeds the 800 hours approved by the Senate in March as part of $34.6 billion legislation to fund the Federal Aviation Administration. The House in October 2009 approved a 1,500-hour minimum in its version of the legislation.

The Air Transport Association, the Washington trade group for major U.S. carriers, told House lawmakers in a letter before their vote that carriers were concerned the requirement would result in “unnecessary and artificial barriers” for qualified pilots and reduce the applicant pool for carriers.

Congressional talks on the FAA bill accelerated last week in anticipation negotiations could be completed this week.

Differences remain over how much to raise ticket taxes to fund airport projects and how many long-distance flights should be allowed from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Kuwik said after the Rockefeller meeting.

Congress is almost three years overdue in renewing the law that finances the FAA. The agency has been operating on temporary renewals of the law while lawmakers negotiate.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Hughes in Washington at jhughes5@bloomberg.net

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