In February 2009, Continental flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air, plunged into a suburb of Buffalo, NY, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground. Pilot error was named as the chief cause of the crash, and investigators focused on pilot fatigue as one of the primary problems. The co-pilot had taken a cross-country, overnight flight the day before the crash, and only slept briefly in an airline lounge before she was required to pilot the flight.
When the plane encountered an ice storm as it attempted to land in Buffalo, the pilots struggled to respond appropriately, and The National Transportation Safety Board found that their “performance was likely impaired because of fatigue.” Both pilots were heard yawning on the cockpit voice recorder.
Families of the victims channeled their grief into action in the following months, launching a 15-month campaign to convince Congress to enact a variety of pilot performance safeguards. The bill passed last summer and, among other things, required the FAA to create tougher rules aimed at controlling pilot fatigue.
But today, the Republican House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) to a Republican-drafted aviation bill that would essentially gut the planned pilot fatigue rules by requiring extensive tailoring to many different segments of the aviation industry, and exempting several others.
Hero pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger blasted the amendment yesterday before it passed, saying “it creates a huge obstacle to new regulations,” and that, “at some point in the future, we don’t know when, it’s likely people will die unnecessarily.” Last night on the Ed Show, Sullenberger said the bill is a “slap in the face” to the Flight 3407 families. He also decried “special interests only interested in the bottom line.”
Family members of those killed on Flight 3407 are already speaking out against the Republican vote. “You can try to dress this up however you like, but we all know which special interests that [the amendment] is attempting to help and what it’s attempting to do for them, which is make it more difficult for the FAA to do its job and regulate them,” said Susan Bourque, who’s sister, Beverly Eckert, was killed in the crash.
Eckert’s husband, Sean Rooney, was killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and in the years following his death, Eckert became a leading 9/11 activist and helped lead the push for the 9/11 Commission. She was flying to Buffalo that evening to attend the unveiling of a scholarship in her late husband’s name.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to prevent the Shuster Amendment from becoming a part of the final aviation bill, after the House and Senate versions are reconciled.