Remembering Colgan Air Flight 3407

On the night of February 12, 2009, Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed on approach to Buffalo, N.Y. All 49 passengers and crew died, as well as one fatality on the ground. The accident was the last in a series of four high-profile fatal airline accidents over a six-year timeframe in the United States, and the ensuing investigation introduced serious questions regarding numerous safety issues within the airline industry—in particular, pilot training, experience, and qualifications. Through the tireless advocacy of ALPA in parallel with the families of those lost in the Colgan accident, Congress passed the Aviation Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, which brought sweeping safety reforms to FAR Part 121 airline operations including minimum standards for pilot training, flight experience, and qualifications as well as for science based flight, duty, and rest requirements.

One of the most profound of those safety improvements was the increase in pilot training, qualification, and experience requirements for those serving as pilots in FAR Part 121 airline operations. Before the law’s enactment, a pilot sitting in the right seat of a FAR Part 121 airliner only needed a commercial pilot’s certificate which could be obtained in as few as 190 hours of flight experience.

ALPA led the call to improve and strengthen pilot training and qualification requirements. Ultimately, the regulations were changed to require that all Part 121 pilots hold either an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate or a restricted airline transport pilot certificate (R-ATP). The R-ATP could be obtained at age 21 with a minimum of 750 hours of flight experience, depending on the source of pilot training and education.

Despite our nation’s stellar aviation safety record since the implementation of the current regulations, some in the industry continue to look for opportunities to weaken these vital safety rules purely for financial gain. In the two decades prior to Congress enacting a law to strengthen pilot training and qualification requirements, more than 1,100 people were killed in U.S. passenger airline accidents. Since the training and qualification requirements were changed in 2010, there has only been one fatal airline accident related to pilot training and qualification. This safety record is one that everyone should be committed to maintaining.

Today, ALPA stands by the Colgan families in remembering the lives lost on Colgan Air Flight 3407. Together, we will continue to work with Congress and aviation regulators to keep these hard-won safety requirements for airline pilot training, qualifications, and experience from being diminished.

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