Fifty lives ended on Tuesday, about ten years ago, when the exhausted and under – trained pilots of Continental Connection Flight 3407 made their way in an emergency and crashed into their plane. a Clarence house.
But the same day, February 12, 2009, a new era of aviation safety began.
US airlines – which have suffered a serious accident every 17 months on average over the last 20 years – have not suffered any such accidents since Flight 3407. After two decades in which 1,186 people died in a US commercial aircraft accident, this decade saw only one of these deaths: the death of a woman when a Southwest Airlines jet window crashed last year.
The security shift inspires the superlatives. National Transportation Safety Board President Robert L. Sumwalt described it as "terrific". The "Miracle on the Hudson" pilot, Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, said the recent safety assessment of his area was "something I would not have thought possible 25 years ago".
The two men said that the remarkable record of the country's air safety is partly at the root of the tragedy that occurred that cold night in Clarence 10 years ago.
After the federal investigators found that the pilots of Flight 3407 were poorly trained and yawned in the cockpit, the families of Flight 3407 of Continental pushed Congress to pass a historic law that would require pilots to have better training, more Experience and more rest.
This legislation, combined with other improvements made by federal regulators and airlines before and after its adoption, created the safest era in the history of aviation.
The airline industry experts and families of Flight 3407 have indicated that there is still work to be done to ensure the safety of the sky, but many are in agreement with what Sumwalt, former pilot and high Country Safety Officer, had to say about Clarence's accident and its impact on aviation safety.
"It was truly a landmark event that led to the deepest changes in the aviation industry in my life," Sumwalt said.
A historical law
The families of Flight 3407 have legalized the lessons of an aircraft accident.
Sullenberger, who flew a US Airways jet plane until a safe landing on the Hudson River after a collision with a bird neutralized the aircraft's engines in January 2009, s & rsquo; Wonders what families of Flight 3407 have accomplished.
"Everyone who steals owes Buffalo families a debt of gratitude that they can never repay," he said.
At the National Transportation Safety Board hearings in May 2009, the lessons of the Clarence crash proved to be extremely detailed. The co – pilot, a tired 24 – year – old man with a cold, poorly programmed computer, slowed the plane too slowly to approach the aircraft. Buffalo. The pilot – hired while he had failed three test flights early in his career – was not fully trained to handle such emergencies and botched his answer, causing him to crash. l & # 39; air.
"There were so many things in this accident that were so disturbing," Sumwalt said.
The families of Flight 3407 undertook to solve all the security problems discovered by the investigators. They called for a law that would require the two pilots of each commercial aircraft to acquire 1,500 hours of flight experience, instead of 250. They called for new training requirements that would require pilots to learn how to fly. recover from a stall in a simulator simulating it. And they insisted that new rules of rest require pilots to sleep a full night between flights.
Dressed in their bright red, the families of Flight 3407 hit the senators and members of the House, their friends and their enemies, and got the adoption of this law in August 2010.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, helped families at every step, but said families deserve all the credit.
"Many people are walking alive and happy on the face of this land that might not have been otherwise because of the work of these great families," said Schumer, the current leader of the minority of the world. Senate.
Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican of Clarence, agreed.
"It's no coincidence that US airline safety laws have resulted in zero fatal accidents in commercial aviation since the Air Safety Act came into force," said Minister said Collins, who, as Erie County leader in 2009, rushed to the scene of the accident.
In retrospect, the families of Flight 3407 seem amazed by their own achievements.
"What always strikes me is that we are only a group of ordinary people who have accomplished something extraordinary," said Karen Wielinski, who lived in the house struck by the flight 3407 and whose husband, Doug, died plane hit the house.
A quiet revolution
The accident of Flight 3407 not only shook those who lost loved ones. This shook the airline industry, as well as those who oversaw it.
"Nobody wanted to be the next Colgan Air," said Kevin Kuwik, one of the first leaders of the family group of Flight 3407, assured the regional airline that operated Flight 3407.
The accident investigation revealed huge safety deficiencies between these regional airlines and the major carriers that hired them to handle shorter flights.
For this reason, Randy Babbitt, then a director of the Federal Aviation Administration, has promised to bring "a level of security" to the airlines. He began preaching the virtues of FAA volunteer safety programs and urged regional airlines to join.
Over time, many have done it. In 2009, only one-third of the country's airlines participated in a voluntary program where employees are encouraged to report safety concerns. Today, 71% of American airlines do it. Similarly, 11% of airlines participated in an FAA flight data monitoring program in 2009, but 45% do so now.
The FAA has also put in place a program to collect all data from these programs and share them among all airlines.
"From now on, the airline industry as a whole can see where the problems are" and fix them before they cause accidents, said Sumwalt, president of the NTSB.
Similarly, in 2008, the FAA launched a voluntary program in which air traffic controllers reported security issues, enabling them to search for and correct dangerous patterns.
Captain John M. Cox, a long-time pilot who now runs a consulting company called Safety Monitoring Systems, is also helping to improve aviation safety.
For example, in 2000, the FAA required that all aircraft include systems that warn pilots when they fly too close to the ground or a body of water. This new equipment virtually eliminated the accidents that occurred when pilots could not see where they were flying.
These changes over several decades, combined with the 2010 law, have created a safer sky, said Cox.
"We worked brick by brick to achieve the safest transportation system ever designed by humans," he said.
The families of Flight 3407 still have work to do: protect the most controversial part of the security law and put pressure on the FAA to implement a final key element.
Airlines have long struggled with the requirement that co-drivers and pilots have the equivalent of 1,500 flying hours.
Some security advocates say this provision is common sense.
"Flying hours and experience can not be replaced," said Gail Dunham, executive director of the National Air Disaster Alliance, a security group.
Sullenberger was in agreement.
If someone only has a few hundred flying hours, it means that by learning to fly, he probably only attended one to one. cycle of the seasons of the year as a pilot – a single spring with crosswinds, a single summer storms, a single winter of ice and snow, "said Sullenberger. "They may never have had a plane de-iced, and if they're flying in good weather, like in Arizona or sometimes in Florida, they might not even have flown in a cloud." . "
But other aviation experts fear that the 1,500 hour requirement will put too much emphasis on the amount, rather than the quality, of the flying experience of a driver.
"We've always said the best measures were knowledge and flying skills," said Mark Millam, vice president of the Flight Safety Foundation, an industry-recognized organization.
The airlines said the 1,500 hour rule had created a shortage of pilots by reducing the number of potential hires. Transport Secretary Elaine Chao accepted at a forum.
"There is this unintended side effect of reducing the number of pilots – pilots who can safely fly into our skies," she said.
A change in the 1,500 hour rule will probably not emerge from Congress. Schumer has blocked such efforts and is committed to doing so as long as he is in Congress. But he and the families fear that the FAA can not weaken the requirement of experience.
Families are also frustrated by the fact that the FAA has not made the last essential change required by the Aviation Safety Act: a database of pilot records that would warn airlines when they are not flying. a future renter has a flight history as mediocre as that of the pilot of flight 3407.
"There is no good explanation for this repeated foot drag," said Scott Maurer, who lost his daughter Lorin in the accident.
When asked to explain the delay, the FAA said that she had tested the database, only to find that some users were having problems signing up.
"Our information technology office is currently studying this problem, including a change of software provider and another registration process," the FAA said.
In other words, it seems that the families of Flight 3407 will have reasons to come to Washington long after the tenth anniversary of the accident.
When they do, they will receive data showing all deaths in aviation in the 1990s and 2000s – and the absence of deaths in that decade – as well as a brief message about the law they passed.
"We have two words," said Karen Eckert, who lost her sister, September 11th activist, Beverly Eckert, in the accident. "It works."