Rounds Would Reduce Pilot Training Rules to Prop up Regional Airlines

Mike Rounds, pilot
Mayday! Mayday! South Dakota Senator going down!

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].

Captain C.B. Sully Sullenberger, who knows a thing or two about airline safetycriticized Rounds’s proposal on the same grounds:

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.


30 Responses to Rounds Would Reduce Pilot Training Rules to Prop up Regional Airlines

  1. Paul Seamans

    The city of Pierre has recently built a new terminal and is now having a difficult time in luring a carrier to service the city. One of Pierre’s biggest concerns is how will pheasant hunters get to town. I would suggest Sioux Falls or Rapid City instead.

  2. These two got paid handsomely for trying to do this kind of deregulation in the skies that they have already done on the ground. The trucking mafia now can put bigger and bigger trucks on the roads with more and more inexperienced drivers being asked to put in more and more hours without rest. Think of the two attached 53 foot trailers flying down the road at 80 full to the max and then some being driven by a Russian getting his dispatches from Marovia after putting in 12 hours straight time on the road. The flying deuces indeed, Thune is Stan and Rounds is Oliver. Every time I see them now, that is where my mind will go.

  3. Rounds didn’t want to pass his amendment. He just wanted to start a dialog. Right! Thune just wanted to start a dialog about Facebook too. Our senators talk a lot.

    Meanwhile, piles of work languish in the Senate…

  4. Jerry K. Sweeney

    I shall warrant, establishing one’s credentials as a lobbyist does necessitate some collateral damage.

  5. mike from iowa

    First sign of criticism and Rounds folds like a wet towel. He doesn’t work very hard for the constituents that bought him, does he?

  6. Roger Cornelius

    Clearly Rounds was in overhead in the political arena, but on the other hand, what isn’t over Mike’s head?

  7. What a dolt. I am sorry, but I flew for about 35 years and this guy is just a puppet! Sure, if we let any wannabe with a hundred hours jump in the cockpit, we could man the aircraft, but is that really the only point? Besides, I thought Joe Pilot would take the state airplane with him to D.C. now that he is a hot shot Senator! We don’t want him having to ride in on a commuter carrier for a basketball game.

  8. owen reitzel

    Why hasn’t this made the news here in South Dakota. This is more news worthy than the phony Facebook story.
    Oh wait, I’m talking about the conservative media here in South Dakota.

  9. Douglas Wiken

    Unlike Round’s and the Buffalo National Mammal, this is a significant bit of incredible ignorance coupled with the power of greed seeking money and power. Rounds is still the dolt who built a house a few inches above a river and then blamed the corps of engineers for the flood that was caused by Janklow suing the Corps to maintain a high water level in the dams to generate sports income.

    We are now seeing indications that a lot of Democrats will support Hillary because of the D even though they don’t trust her and find her personally irritating. We hear that Republicans are doing the same for Trump with an R. We have 3 US representatives who are in Congress because they have the R after their name despite a truckload of evidence indicating they are intellectually corrupt and morally and ethically bankrupt.

    A whole lot of reason to support the non-partisan elections in SD as a first step in turning legislatures into truly representative institutions instead of gerrymandered frauds.

  10. I don’t think I’ll trust my safety with a Governor who presided over EB-5 and GEAR UP.

  11. Profit before all else, the republican way.

  12. Mike Rounds is still FOR SALE at fabulously low prices! With deals like this, lobbyists from every industry are flocking to this fresh new, EASY TO USE product! Don’t wait! Call now! Deals like this surely won’t [or at least shouldn’t] last!

  13. how long has rounds had his various pilots licenses?

  14. I don’t know how long Rounder has had his pilot’s license, but I’d be curious to know how many free flight hours he got – or claimed – riding in the state plane for 8 years as governor. I suspect that every hour he spent in that plane went into his pilot logbook. Free flight hours are a pretty good perk for a governor with a pilot’s license.

    It’s much easier to be a pilot than it used to be. One used to have to use a dead reckoning computer (circular slide rule) to calculate wind correction angles, fuel use, ground speed, etc. Now all of that is done with GPS and computers. One thing that hasn’t changed is how expensive it is to fly. That’s why Rounder started an airplane leasing company to rent out his plane when he’s not using it. I suspect the Joopster has probably spent a lot of money renting Rounder’s plane and utilizing the goods and services provided by other Rounder businesses. Maybe the next AG will look into that – if he/she isn’t a GOP partier.

  15. Owen, KCCR gave Rounds’s suggestion some attention back in April. But note that in Pierre and other media markets in the state that depend on federally subsidized air travel, the Regional Airline Association’s lobbying points would play very well.

  16. Leslie, Rounds has been a pilot at least since he was governor. His current license appears to have been issued July 16, 2009. The FAA database says he is rated as a commercial pilot for “Airplane Single Engine Land,” “Airplane Multiengine Land,” and “Instrument Airplane.”

  17. From a 2010 article: “Rounds took his first airplane ride through the CAP, soloed at 16, and earned his private pilot certificate on his seventeenth birthday. Now, in the seventh year of his governorship, he has instrument and commercial single- and multiengine ratings and continues to study for his air transport pilot certificate.”

    https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2010/march/25/politicians-and-planes-(3)

  18. drey samuelson

    Donald Trump has taught politicians a perfect way to deal with bonehead ideas like this: “it was just a suggestion!”

  19. Even if Mike Rounds had 1 BILLION pilot hours – he’s hardly deeper than an anti-liberal ideologue. If there’s a regulation, then it’s killing jobs. If there’s a standard, then it’s too strict. If it’s a tax, then it’s too big. And blah blah freakin’ blah.

    And on top of that, even when he’s an ‘expert’ on a topic (like aviation) he lets his ideology trump practicality.

  20. “Just a suggestion”—ha! Candidates have a responsibility as statesmen to offer good ideas. They need to take responsibility for their words, not blurt them out to win votes, then disown them when someone gives them heat.

  21. Douglas Wiken

    “Just a suggestion” is a variant of “Oh, I was just kidding.” after an idiotic blog post.

  22. how about facebook, photop Thune.

  23. OR facebook Johnny

  24. A few peculiarities related to this proposal in general:
    1) While the increase in flight time requirements has led to a supply problem for pilots, many pilots are now able to fly for better wages (no more food stamps). Regional airlines are now offering bonuses and pay scale increases which has had led many to reenter the pilot profession as they no longer have their first 10 years flying at poverty level with $100,000+ in debt.

    2) Now that there is a supply problem with ATP certified pilots, the market is now adjusting, especially in Essential Air Service (EAS) Communities. Instead of flying 20-50 seat jets or turboprops at high subsidies and low load factors, new market entrants are using 9 seat business turboprop planes like the Pilatus PC-12 which actually provide more comfort and more frequent service than most regional airlines. The downside is one of your pilots is not going to have their full 1000+ hours to get their ATP but will not be flying at poverty level wages (which leads to less fatigue problems like what caused flight 3407). This is seeming to be a way to right the EAS program to meet demand. Many communities that have started with these smaller airlines like Boutique air have fallen in love with the service, especially for their reliability, unique planes, and good pilots.

    3) Rounds rule proposal is likely the result of talking to guys like Chuck Howell, the CEO of Great Lakes. Mr. Howell has consistently been sending letters crying about the new pilot rules as an excuse for why his company cannot provide service to these communities (such as Watertown and Pierre). What he is ignoring is his industry bottom wages, long training contracts, and poor planes (no autopilot, no GPS, no bathroom) as well as the competition that was able to adapt. Rounds seems to be more interested in listening to influence from guys like him rather than hearing from the pilots of regional airlines which are now finally able to make living wages.

    4) A bit more off topic, Pierre has spent the last couple years trying to woo another EAS carrier to come to town and improve service. Their choice has been Aerodynamics Inc during the past 2-3 bidding cycles despite the fact that the company has had trouble paying its employees, was recently was purchased, then went through bankruptcy, and has no airline interline agreements set up. The reason Pierre is consistently choosing Aerodynamics because they have shiny (old) jets and the ability to carry the “large hunting duffels” that hunters bring over two months every fall. It seems a bit foolish to place all your cards on one company with labor problems and little experience and expect them to provide consistent service all in the name of being able to carry “large hunting duffels.” It would seem to me that reliability would be a more important factor in restoring the confidence of the flying public in Pierre.

  25. Douglas Wiken

    A friend planned to fly back from Washington State to Pierre on the 24. The flight between Denver and Pierre was canceled.

  26. It shows in their passenger numbers
    http://cityofpierre.org/DocumentCenter/View/24
    The City of Pierre needs to quit sitting around and waiting for Aerodynamics and go with an airline that is turn key to get Great Lakes out.

  27. Nick Nemec

    That Denver to Pierre flight is canceled so often the desk clerks at the Red Lion Hotel near the Denver airport are on a first name basis with some of the travelers.

  28. mike from iowa

    Denver to Pierre- is that the stoner’s red eye flight home for the work week?

  29. Darrell Solberg

    If it would help Rounds, he says do it!!!! If it will help the working class, he says wait awhile!!!! If it is questionable you can bet Rounds will have his fingers on it!!!!

  30. Douglas Wiken

    Right now, it sounds like the Denver to Pierre flight is on and my friend will likely be in Pierre tomorrow. All this is more fodder for the idea that high-speed light rail is what is needed rather than more airports and more domestic flights. Light rail could be powered significantly by solar power generation.