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Advocates sue to force air safety regulations

NEWARK, N.J. — Airline safety advocates sued Tuesday to force the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt long-standing safety recommendations in the wake of a deadly plane crash in New York this month.

The complaint, brought by Gail Dunham, executive director of the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation, was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington and names Department of Transportation Secretary Ray H. LaHood and Lynne A. Osmus, acting administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Dunham's group says the government is not improving air safety fast enough.

The lawsuit seeks to force the government to approve safety measures recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board as far back as the mid 1990s.

The suit accuses the DOT and FAA of continuing to "shirk their duties to the traveling public" by not doing so.

The DOT oversees the FAA, which has the power to put new safety measures in place. The NTSB is an independent investigative body.

Listed in the lawsuit are recommendations made in 1996 that focus on aircraft performance in icing conditions, spurred by the 1994 crash of an American Eagle flight in Roselawn, Ind., that killed 68 people.

Icing has been cited by NTSB investigators as a factor in the Feb. 12 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 — a twin turboprop similar to the American Eagle plane — in Clarence, N.Y., in which all 49 people on board and one person on the ground were killed.

Osmus noted Tuesday that the FAA has issued more than 100 safety directives since the American Eagle crash to help prevent accidents related to icing and, in 2007, set new standards for handling of commercial airplanes in icing conditions.

The NTSB blamed the 1994 American Eagle crash partly on ice accumulated on the plane's wings and recommended in 1996 that testing requirements for flight certification of all turboprop planes be adjusted to include the specific kind of icing conditions in the Roselawn crash.

The board also recommended that turboprop planes already in use when the testing requirements were in place should be retested and, if necessary, redesigned. But more than 12 years later, those recommendations haven't been implemented.

The NTSB has partly blamed the FAA's inaction on icing issues for a 1997 turboprop crash in Monroe, Mich., that killed 29 people and a 2005 Cessna Citation business jet crash in Pueblo, Colo., in which eight people died.

WASHINGTON — The air traffic controller who handled Flight 1549 thought ditching in the Hudson River amounted to a death sentence for all aboard. Now the veteran pilot who pulled off the feat safely says pay cuts are driving experienced pilots from the cockpit.

"People don't survive landings on the Hudson River," 10-year controller Patrick Harten told the House aviation subcommittee Tuesday in his first public description of how he tried to help land the jetliner that lost power in both jets when it hit geese after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.

"I thought it was his own death sentence," Harten said of the moment when US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger radioed that he was going into the river. But Sullenberger delicately glided the Airbus A320 down in one piece and all 155 people aboard survived the Jan. 15 water landing.

Harten riveted the hearing with his account of the 31/2 minutes during which he spoke with the crippled jetliner.

When Sullenberger said he couldn't make it either back to LaGuardia or to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and would ditch in the river, Harten testified, "I believed at that moment I was going to be the last person to talk to anyone on that plane alive."

Sullenberger, who joined a US Airways predecessor in 1980, and his co-pilot, Jeffrey B. Skiles, said experienced pilots are quitting because of cuts in pay and benefits.

Skiles said unless federal laws are revised to improve labor-management relations "experienced crews in the cockpit will be a thing of the past." Sullenberger added that without experienced pilots "we will see negative consequences to the flying public."

Sullenberger testified that his pay has been cut 40 percent in recent years and his pension has been terminated. These cuts followed a wave of airline bankruptcies after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and are compounded by the current recession, he said.

The reduced compensation has placed "pilots and their families in an untenable financial situation," Sullenberger said. "I do not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps."

Advocates sue to force air safety regulations 02/24/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:49pm]
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