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12 years after Flight 3407 crash, push for pilot database rule continues

The formal registry would give airlines crucial information on the flying history of the men and women they hire and place in the cockpit.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's hard to believe that it has been 12 years to the day since the crash of flight 3407 in Clarence. To this day, the events of that night in 2009 still haunt the memories of many in our community. 

But while we have come so far since then in terms of airline safety, brought about through the efforts of the victims' loved ones, there is still a final element to finish up.

We've heard the frustration of the 3407 families through the years. 2 On Your Side spoke last year with John Kausner, who lost his daughter, Ellyce, in the crash. He said he was "amazed, stunned. That's it. Now 11 years and they haven't put it through. It is not that complicated."

But the federal government process can be complicated as the final remaining piece of the 2010 Airline Safety and FAA Act still is not officially in place. Despite the best and tireless efforts of the united 3407 families group and their frequent Washington visits, just a test version of the pilot record database has been on the agency's website in recent years.  

That formal registry would give airlines crucial information on the flying history of those men and women they hire and place in the cockpit. Congressman Brian Higgins says "that's just good practical information to have because it was determined by the National Transportation Board that the reason for this tragedy was pilot error."

So why hasn't it happened yet?  Bureaucracy?

Higgins points out, "It's the reason why, but it's not an excuse. There are a lot of special interests in Washington and people, the airline industry and others, were fighting against this change. There are unfortunately forces in Washington that fight this kind of change because it costs them money."

Whatever is happening, 2 On Your Side is told by the Federal Aviation Administration that it is still in that rule making process and the agency can't really know how it will work or what it may include until the rule is written. And a spokeswoman adds it's not certain when that will be done. 

Higgins and the new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say they have reached out with letters and actually a phone call Friday morning to the newly confirmed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has FAA oversight.

Sources say the database rule is currently under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is still taking shape under the new Biden Administration. It has been in that review since March of 2020 with a 90-day comment period, but there was no action past June.

The Regional Airline Association, which helped represent smaller carriers such as the now former Colgan Air that operated Flight 3407, says they are also in support of the database. 

So will the pressure keep mounting? Higgins says there's a compelling reason to do so as the other provisions have apparently helped with no fatal airline crashes since 2010.

"We've had a relatively safe period of airline safety. We want to ensure that that continues," he said.

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