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U.S. Senate Clears Measure to Increase Pilot Training

Representative James Oberstar
Representative James Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota, speaks during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on airline fees in Washington. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. Senate cleared and sent to President Barack Obama legislation that would increase by sixfold the minimum experience pilots need to work at airlines in response to a commuter-plane crash.

The requirement that pilots have 1,500 hours of flight time, surpassing the current 250-hour minimum, was sought by pilot unions and relatives of victims in a deadly February 2009 crash near Buffalo, New York. The House passed the bill yesterday.

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 people, by incorrectly responding to a stall warning in the cockpit. He died along with all passengers, crew and a person on the ground.

“We are taking long overdue action,” said Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, in a statement. “The flying public can truly expect one high level of safety in our skies.”

The legislation, which passed both chambers by voice vote, would require that the Federal Aviation Administration ensure pilots have been trained in stall recovery and would force airlines to take steps to assure that pilots aren’t flying when they are tired.

The pilot-safety bill also extends through September the law authorizing financing for the FAA. Without action by Aug. 1, taxes that support the agency would expire. While the FAA authorization in the measure would be temporary, the safety provisions would be permanent.

‘Strongest Safety Bill’

“We can no longer delay in enacting the strongest safety bill in decades,” said Representative Jerry Costello, an Illinois Democrat, before the House vote.

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 would make it easier for ground workers at FedEx Corp.’s Express unit to form unions.

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

The measure is H.R. 5900.

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