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FAA Urged to Reject Proposal Trimming U.S. Pilot Experience

The Federal Aviation Administration should reject a recommendation that would let pilots who have certain academic credentials fly with as few as 500 hours of experience, New York Senator Charles Schumer said.

Schumer, a Democrat, faulted an advisory panel of industry and labor representatives for proposing that the FAA substitute training for about two thirds of the 1,500-hour requirement passed by Congress this year. “I ask that FAA put the safety of the flying public ahead of the interests of the industry insiders,” Schumer said in a letter to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt released today.

Congress in July increased the experience required from 250 hours in response to the crash of a plane operated by Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s Colgan unit last year near Buffalo, New York. The law lets pilots fly with less than 1,500 hours should the FAA conclude academic training “will enhance safety more” than flying experience.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Colgan Captain Marvin Renslow, who was making the flight on behalf of Continental Airlines Inc., caused the crash that killed 50 people by incorrectly responding to a stall warning in the cockpit. Everyone on the plane and a person on the ground died.

The FAA advisory panel’s recommendation “is not the sole factor used to determine” what the agency will do in implementing the law, an FAA statement said. Spokeswoman Laura Brown said there was no timetable as to when the FAA would act.

The law enacted by Congress “specifically authorizes and recognizes” FAA authority to require less than 1,500 hours of experience, said Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, which backs the 500-hour proposal.

Pinnacle, SkyWest

Cohen’s group represents carriers such as Memphis, Tennessee-based Pinnacle, Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings Inc. and SkyWest Inc. of St. George, Utah.

The FAA advisory panel was dominated by industry and flight-school proponents who advocated the training substitute, said Paul Onorato, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.

“We don’t agree with any of that,” said Onorato, whose group represents pilots at carriers including AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co. and US Airways Group Inc. “There’s no substitute for experience in the airplane.”

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at liebert@bloomberg.net.

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