Stalled regulations finally take flight


An economist friend once told me about a conversation with a businessman who was railing against U.S. government socialism. “Does that mean you’d get rid of the Federal Aviation Administration?” my friend asked. “Hell, no,” said the man. “I don’t want the plane I’m on colliding with another one.”

The FAA promotes airline safety via air-traffic control, pilot training standards and other regulations that conservatives regularly denounce as socialistic oppression. When right-wingers held sway in Washington, they stood in the way of updating the rules under a misguided philosophy that the airlines, not the traveling public, were the FAA’s “customers.”

Now, more than 16 years after a Northwest Airlink commuter jet crashed in Hibbing, killing all 18 aboard, Congress has finally enacted new FAA regs that hold regional pilots to the same training standards as those for major carriers. Until now, the former could fly commercial jets with one-sixth the flight hours required of the latter. In addition, the legislation directs the FAA to update flight and duty time rules for pilots consistent with scientific findings on pilot fatigue and to require that pilots are trained to recover from midair stalls.

“When you buy a ticket from Duluth to Chicago or New York, you have the right to know that the pilot flying the Duluth leg has the same qualifications and training as the pilot flying out of Minneapolis,” said Minnesota U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who began pushing for the changes in 1994.