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U.S. Pilots Need More Flight Experience Under Measure

July 28 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. pilots would need 1,500 hours of experience to be hired by airlines under legislation House Democrats said Congress may approve in the next few days.

The requirement, six times higher than the current 250-hour minimum, was sought by pilot unions and relatives of victims in a February 2009 fatal air crash near Buffalo, New York.

The House voted 409-11 for the provision last October as part of “the strongest safety bill passed in decades,” said Representative Jerry Costello, an Illinois Democrat.

The pilot-safety provisions, which also require additional training for flying in icing conditions, may be adopted by the House and Senate in the next few days as part of broader legislation to fund the Federal Aviation Administration through Sept. 30, Costello and Representative James Oberstar said.

“I expect the Senate to concur,” Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said on a call with reporters.

Lawmakers have until Aug. 1 to extend the law that finances the FAA because without action the taxes supporting the agency expire. The House lawmakers are adding the safety provisions to legislation extending FAA financing to Sept. 30. While funding would be temporary, the safety provisions would be permanent.

Besides the 1,500-hour limit, the legislation requires the FAA to ensure pilots have been trained in stall recovery and would force airlines to take steps to make sure pilots are not flying when they are tired.

Incorrect Response

The National Transportation Safety Board said this year that Captain Marvin Renslow of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s Colgan unit caused his plane to crash near Buffalo, killing 50, by incorrectly responding to a stall warning in the cockpit. He died along with all passengers, crew and a person on the ground.

Renslow and co-pilot Rebecca Shaw each had more than 1,500 hours of experience when the plane crashed. Renslow, 47, had 3,379 hours and Shaw, 24, had 2,244, according to the NTSB.

The pilots may have been “seasoned enough” to avoid actions that led to the crash had they been had more than 1,500 hours of experience before they were hired, said Paul Onorato, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations. Onorato said neither pilot met the experience threshold.

“That airplane was perfectly capable of flying,” said Onorato, whose group represents pilots at carriers including AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co. and US Airways Group Inc.

House and Senate lawmakers are putting off for now resolving disagreements that have stalled a longer-term FAA bill. Legislators are at odds over raising passenger ticket fees that fund airports and enacting a provision that makes it easier for ground workers at FedEx Corp.’s Express unit to form unions.

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

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

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