Senate Passes FAA Air Safety Bill

The U.S. Senate passed The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Bill last Monday, March 22, 2010, a little over a year after the tragic Flight 3407 crash near Buffalo, New York. The new legislation is called the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act. The bill will address the safety gaps that led to the tragic crash of Flight 3407 and other crashes before it, and will enact several safety regulations in regional airline travel.

Since the House passed a competing bill in May of last year, this means that both the House and the Senate have each passed their versions of the bill.

Issues still remain which need to be cleared up before the House and Senate bills can be merged into one. For instance, there are some controversial provisions in the House bill that were left out of the Senate version. One of these provisions is aimed at voiding airline alliance’s antitrust immunity requiring alliances to reapply. This is a provision that airlines do not want to see passed. Also included in the House bill is raising the cap of landing fees from $4.50 to $7.00. This fee is used for airport renovations and will be included in the price of airline tickets.

Most importantly, the House bill deals more directly with pilot training, with added text straight from the pilot-training bill into the FAA bill.

The bills do have some things in common, including requirements for the FAA to inspect repair stations overseas at least twice a year. Also, the House and Senate bills both require an increase in pilot training hours although the amount differs with each bill. The House bill will require pilots have 1,500 hours of flight time instead of the 250 that is currently needed to fly for a commercial airline. The Senate bill will require a total of 800 hours of flight time. These provisions are highly important since the February 2009 crash of Flight 3407 sparked outrage and criticism of air safety, specifically pilot training and fatigue, which were major factors in the crash.

The passing of the bills has been credited to the steadfast lobbying of the surviving family members of those killed when Flight 3407 crashed at Clarence Center, New York in February 2009. Senator Charles E. Schumer said in a statement after the passing of the Senate bill, “Make no mistake about it, because of tonight’s actions and the year of work before it, people will be safer when they fly, and it is due to one factor – the strength, fortitude, and focus of the 3407 Families.”

By passing the extension of FAA programs for one month, Congress has given themselves until the end of April to reach a compromise. Hopefully, Congress will come to an agreement that honors the lives of those lost in air accidents like that of Flight 3407 and hopefully, this bill will forever change the face of safety in our skies.