Miracle On The Hudson Captain Calls 3407 Safety Delays Unconscionable

8:12 PM, Feb 22, 2013   |    comments
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Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger

BUFFALO, N.Y. - On January 15th, 2009, Captain Sully Sullenberger became one of the most famous pilots in history when he safely ditched his crippled plane, Flight 1549 in the Hudson River saving the lives of all of his 155 passengers.

Both Sullenberger and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles had 20,000 hours of experience in the air.

Exactly four weeks later, Colgan Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence killing all 49 people on board on one on the ground.

The NTSB said pilot training, pilot experience and fatigue were causes of the crash.

Especially noteworthy was the fact that the pilot of 3407 did exactly the opposite of he should have when the plane went into a stall.

And so four weeks apart, one flight loses its power and lands safely on the water, the other goes into a stall and crashes into a home.

In August of 2010, after a year and a half fight by the 3407 families, President Obama signed into law legislation to make flying safer for all of us.

Yet today, two and a half years later, the FAA still has not implemented key parts of the law that are especially important to pilots on regional flights like 3407, and that upsets the man responsible for the "Miracle on the Hudson."

"There have been long delays, unconscionable delays in getting these rules implemented," says Sullenberger, CBS News Aviation and Safety Consultant.

For example, now 17 months overdue is a provision requiring more training for pilots, including how to handle stalls.

Now seven months overdue is a requirement that co-pilots have 1,500 hours experience, up from the current 250 hours.

We spoke with Captain Sullenberger from his home in California.

He has been a strong supporter of what the 3407 families have been fighting for, and has been especially close with Scott Mauer, one of the family leaders. Scott Mauer's daughter Lorin died in the crash.

Scott Brown: "The improvements we're talking about - 15 hundred hours of training, knowing how to come out of a stall, these seem like very common sense measures- am I right in saying that?"

Sully Sullenberger: "Yes and these are things that are well understood, there's not a lot of ambiguity about what needs to be done. It's taking too long and until they're done, the lessons of Colgan are not being fully learned and certainly not being fully implemented."

Sullenberger said from the time a flock of geese struck his plane and knocked out its power, he and his co-pilot had just three and a half minutes to try and land the plane.

Sullenberger says if he had not had an experienced co-pilot, there may not have been any miracles that day.

Remember that right now, the FAA requirement for a co-pilot is just 250 hours of experience.

Sully Sullenberger: "Quite frankly if I had someone in the right (co-pilot) seat with 300 or 400 hours like some of these new regional pilots have, we could not have had as good as an outcome because they would not have had time to react on their own without specific direction to assist me in these critical tasks."

Scott Brown: "Given that how is it possible that the FAA is fighting these rules, especially when it comes to hours of flight training?"

Sully Sullenberger: "You know it boggles the mind. It wasn't that many years ago, when airline pilots from all of the airlines, including the regionals, had to have thousands of hours of experience. In fact, ten or 15 years ago if someone had tried to apply for a job as an airline pilot at any of these companies with 500 hours, they would have laughed you out of the office."

Scott Brown: "The families have expressed to us their continuing anger and frustration with the FAA do you think that anger and frustration is justified?"

Sully Sullenberger: "Absolutely and I'm not someone who lost a daughter in the crash as Scott Mauer did. My daughters are alive and healthy, I can only imagine the anguish that these families continue to experience."

Scott Brown: "What have your experiences been in meeting the families and in speaking with them?"

Sully Sullenberger: "In meeting with the families and speaking with them, it makes it very real what we're talking about. This is not some abstract concept, we're talking about people's lives. These are people who had real lives who had families and are sorely missed. Until all these important safety improvement are in place, they won't rest and I can't either."

Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General issued a report criticizing the FAA, saying "implementing the (Flight Safety) Act's requirements is key to improving safety ...by raising standards in pilot training and performance."

Scott Brown: "To put it bluntly, how much of it is lobbying in Washington that's preventing these safety changes from being made?"

Sully Sullenberger: "Well that's one of the things that the Inspector General report on January 31st highlighted is that there's tremendous industry pushback, trying to weaken, delay, kill important safety initiatives and it's really disconcerting to me that that's the case. These are important lessons that we have learned at great cost, literally bought with blood, and we owe it to the victims and their families to make changes now and not after the next accident."

Scott Brown: "Would you say we've been fortunate that there hasn't been a crash since 3407 given that these rules have yet to be implemented?"

Sully Sullenberger: "We are very fortunate that it's been four years since we've had a fatal regional crash in this country. We're more fortunate that it's been over a decade since the last passenger fatality on a large jet airliner, which was November 2001 in New York. But we can't keep on being lucky forever."

The FAA is now claiming the safety rules will be in effect later this year.

Scott Brown: "Do you believe the FAA has credibility when it says it is going to implement these changes?"

Sully Sullenberger: "I think their actions will speak volumes. I'm taking a wait and see attitude, I think we all are."

Scott Brown: "As someone who is so concerned about flight safety, do the actions of the FAA outrage you?"

Sully Sullenberger: "In aggregate, this delay at FAA within the industry, this push back against what we really know needs to be done, offends me, yes. We as a society, we as an industry must have the integrity and the courage to do what we know needs to be done. And it will be done, but will it be done this year, or will it be done sometime in the future after others have perished, that's what we have to ask ourselves."




















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