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US lawmakers propose new safety legislation

House lawmakers today announced a bill meant to force the US FAA and air carriers to rapidly boost regional airline safety through enhanced training and hiring requirements, fatigue countermeasures and other interventions in the wake of several deadly crashes, the most recent being the Colgan Air Q400 crash in Buffalo, New York, in February.

Key provisions in the Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009, which Congress will debate after returning from summer recess in September, include a new requirement that both pilots in the cockpit, rather than the captain only, have an air transport pilot rating. Under that stipulation the mimimum hours of flight time required for first officers rises to 1,500, significantly higher than levels currently required.

Other measures include a new pilot record database that the FAA will have to create within 90 days to provide airlines with electronic access to a pilot's record, including failed tests for ratings. The proposed legislation also requires the establishment of airline mentoring programmes to pair highly experienced pilots with junior pilots, and oversight to ensure pilots are being taught proper stall recovery and upset recovery operations.

More broadly, the FAA will be required to create a task force, reporting to Congress twice yearly, on aviation industry best practices regarding pilot training, pilot professional standards, and inter-carrier information sharing, mentoring and other safety-related practices.

Significant for airlines is the mandate that the FAA update and implement new flight and duty time rules for pilots and for carriers to create fatigue risk management systems, which may highlight pilots that commute long distances when reporting for duty.

Lawmakers also want Internet sites selling airline tickets to disclose the name of the air carrier flying each leg of a flight on the first page of the site.

The Air Transport Association of America (ATA), though not outwardly against the bill, says lawmakers should wait until interventions already launched by the FAA and others to generate results before legislating the changes.

"The best process for advancing safety involves not just the airlines but also the extensive network of safety professionals in government, manufacturing and our workforce," says ATA President and CEO James May.

"That process, reflected in the ongoing work of the FAA, the NTSB, the DOT inspector general and the Aviation Rulemaking Committee established at the direction of the DOT [to study pilot fatigue], is in fact fully engaged in determining the best course of action in response to the Colgan Air accident."

May adds: "We believe in that process and we believe it should be allowed to proceed to a successful conclusion."

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