BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a potential battle over pilot experience hours hanging in the air, the families of Flight 3407, who fought so hard for pilot training and hiring requirements, are once again gearing up for battle.
2 On Your Side found out they and local members of Congress are ready to push back against any attempt to lower the threshold for pilot hiring.
Republic Airways flies to Buffalo as a regional carrier tied to American, Delta, and United Airlines. Now it's calling for an exemption to the 1,500 flight experience hours requirement for hiring pilots is stirring up concern once again.
As a departure, they want a 750-hour threshold, citing potential ex-military hires and their specific Lift flight training academy.
So for the Families of 3407 group who lost loved ones in that 2009 Clarence center crash and fought for such sweeping safety requirements, it's yet another challenge even as they point to 13 years without a deadly airline crash in the United States.
John Kausner, who lost his daughter in the Clarence crash, says, "They want to go to Congress and get relief from Congress. But the environment today is they're saying, 'We just want an exemption from the rule instead of relief.' So instead of going to Congress, they just want the DOT to give them an exemption. I'm hoping they won't do that. But I don't know for sure. You never know what to expect."
Kausner, who is also speaking for the Flight 3407 Families group, added: "Thirteen years since the crash, there hasn't been a single airline crash in the United States since then. The decade prior, every 14 months or so a regional airline had an airplane crash in America. Hasn't been any. The safety rule has been perfect since it was enacted. To change it now is ludicrous."
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins told 2 On Your Side: "I am writing to FAA to ensure that this and any future requests to circumvent the pilot training hours is categorically rejected."
Republic Airways, which did not respond for comment, is the only carrier making this request. But other airlines, including major carriers, point out what they say is a growing shortage of up to 14,500 pilots over the next eight years, with mandatory retirements at age 65. This perhaps was a factor in the major cancellation and delay issues seen at large airports earlier this year
That shortage is disputed by the Airline Pilots Association. That is the pilots' union, which claims government pandemic bailouts were mismanaged by the airlines with poor working conditions for pilots.
So it all means another Capitol Hill trip for the 3407 families this summer.
"Well, now 13 years later and many new members of Congress and senators, they just aren't familiar with the problem," Kausner said. "They just don't have a history. So the airlines are there every day. They have billions of dollars. They're there all the time, lobbying Congress for relief, relief, relief "
Kausner added: "It's ridiculous to think, 'Let's lower the safety standards so we can get more pilots.' "