You’d think that as a pilot, Mike Rounds could at least get aviation legislation right.
Last month, South Dakota’s junior Senator proposed easing the training requirements for pilots for regional airlines. Congress enacted the current requirement that pilots have 1,500 hours of flight experience before going to work for commercial airlines as part of significant safety reforms passed in 2010 in response to the 2009 crash of Continental/Colgan Flight 3407 near Buffalo, NY. That crash resulted from pilot fatigue, error, and ignorance. Senator Rounds suggested allowing airlines to count training flights at the airline toward their 1,500 hours.
Senator Rounds justified his proposal by saying small regional airlines, like those that struggle to maintain service to the Senator’s hometown of Pierre even with federal subsidies, need easier regulations so they can hire pilots and keep their planes running.
Rounds’s proposal struck families of Flight 3407 fatalities as an industry sop, not safety:
“When it comes to something as technical as pilot training, you would expect this amendment to come from someone on the committee of jurisdiction, so this makes you wonder who Senator Rounds is talking to when he is the one that puts this forward,” stated Scott Maurer of Palmetto, Florida, who lost his thirty year old daughter Lorin. “Clearly this is being pushed by or on behalf of the Regional Airline Association, and there obviously is a South Dakota angle here. You have RAA member Great Lakes Airlines, who just happens to service South Dakota, and who every time we come to Washington is making noise for this exemption and for that loophole. Not to mention the huge government subsidy they accept every year, and their less-than-stellar record when it comes to maintenance, reliable operation, and paying their pilots food stamp-level wages. So if you’re the father of Lorin Maurer, and you wake up every day with a massive hole in your heart from a totally needless tragedy, what do you say to Senator Rounds and to our Congress in general when it sure as heck looks like the tail is wagging the dog? Instead of doing the right thing and challenging our regional airlines to step up to the plate and raise their game to the level of the mainline carriers, we are looking for every possible way to accommodate them with loopholes. We call on Majority Leader McConnell to allow this proposal to go no further” [Families of Continental Flight 3407, press release, 2016.04.14].
The amendment to the FAA bill proposed by U.S. Senator Mike Rounds would weaken critical pilot standards. This is yet another cynical attempt by some in the regional industry to put profits before people. There are no shortcuts to pilot experience; there are no shortcuts to safety. The standards are the standards because they are necessary [Capt. C.B. Sullenberger, Facebook post, 2016.04.14].
The 3407 families also blame Senator John Thune for not checking his rookie counterpart’s enthusiasm for business over safety:
“Obviously I am not happy with Senator Rounds for bringing this forward, but I want to express my profound disappointment in Senator Thune as well,” stated John Kausner of Clarence Center, New York who lost his twenty-four year old daughter Ellyce. “He is Senator Rounds’ senior partner in the South Dakota delegation, and more importantly, as the Commerce Committee Chairman, he is the point man on this whole FAA Bill. I have a hard time believing that Senator Rounds went this one alone without Senator Thune’s blessing and/or encouragement. So many including myself, Scott Maurer, Mike Loftus, Jim Neill, Gayle Saltzgiver and others, lost beautiful, talented, incredible children who had so much more life left to live and so much more to give this world. From one father to another, I call on Senator Thune to challenge all these regional airlines to enhance their entry-level training programs, not so that they can get an allowance from the FAA, but rather because it’s the right thing to do for every member of the traveling public [Families of 3407, 2016.04.14].
Faced with such stiff headwinds, Senator Rounds veered off, saying he just wanted to start a “dialogue”, a common dodge of public figures who don’t want to take full responsibility for their really bad ideas. Dialogue with New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand got Senator Rounds to withdraw what the Buffalo News called a “damaging” amendment. With Rounds’s foolishness out of the way, the Senate passed the FAA Reauthorization Act 95–3 on April 19.
With the Flying Deuces representing South Dakota in the Senate, we’re lucky the Senate hasn’t crashed.