WASHINGTON – Budget cuts from sequestration won’t stop the Federal Aviation Administration from finalizing by this fall, as promised, new aviation safety rules stemming from the 2009 plane crash in Clarence Center, the agency’s administrator told a Senate committee this week.
Testifying at an aviation safety hearing held by the Senate Commerce Committee, FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta said the agency will finalize new rules regarding pilot qualifications by Aug. 1, and will finish the work on new pilot training guidelines by Oct. 1.
“We are on track, and we will complete it,” Huerta said of the new regulations, which Congress mandated in 2010 safety legislation after the February 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 that claimed 50 lives.
As the agency works to implement a $627 million funding cut because of sequestration, the agency is prioritizing aviation safety above everything else, Huerta said.
Agency employees will be furloughed for 11 days each through the end of September, and the agency also has announced cutbacks at control towers that are not in heavy use.
The result of the furloughs – which also will affect air traffic controllers – could be flight delays of up to 90 minutes during peak travel times at the nation’s busiest airports, but it’s all because the agency is putting safety first, Huerta said.
Both the pilot-qualification rules and the pilot-training regulations have been delayed several times, but the agency announced in February that it would stick to its current August and October deadlines.
Members of the Families of Continental Flight 3407 who attended the hearing were happy the aviation safety timetable won’t be affected.
“That is very good news,” said Susan Bourque, who lost a sister, 9/11 activist Beverly Eckert, in the crash.
Another member of the families group, John Kausner, credited Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., with winning a commitment from Huerta in February to stick to the current deadlines on the safety rules. “He had a heart-to-heart conversation with the administrator,” said Kausner, whose daughter, Ellyce, was killed in the crash.
The pilot-qualification rules would require that co-pilots as well as pilots on commercial airplanes have an air transport pilot license, which requires 1,500 hours of flight experience.
Training rules will teach pilots to fly in real-world conditions, including simulator training on handling sudden aircraft “upsets” such as the one on Flight 3407.