- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Four senators, including the chairman of the Senate’s aviation panel, have asked a government watchdog to investigate safety enforcement at regional airlines.

In a letter released Tuesday, the senators told Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel that the circumstances of the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo in February raised questions about the Federal Aviation Administration’s enforcement of regulations related to pilot training and crew rest at regional carriers

“Adequate pilot training and rest is a basic prerequisite to make certain the air transportation system achieves a high level of safety,” the letter said. “Such regulations, however, must be paired with vigorous FAA oversight of airline compliance to have a credible effect.”

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s aviation subcommittee, also raised the issue with Randy Babbitt, who was nominated by President Obama to head the FAA, at a confirmation hearing Tuesday. Mr. Dorgan said he was “just furious” about testimony during a National Transportation Safety Board hearing last week suggesting that flaws in pilot hiring and training, as well as fatigue, may have contributed to the crash, which killed all 49 people aboard and one man on the ground.

Mr. Dorgan asked Mr. Babbitt whether the same safety standards that apply to larger airlines also apply to regional carriers.

Mr. Babbitt, a former Air Line Pilots Association president and one-time Eastern Airlines pilot, said that there used to be less rigorous standards for regional carriers but that changes he helped develop in the early 1990s were supposed to bring regional airlines up to the same safety standards as those of larger carriers.

Mr. Dorgan said he plans to hold a hearing June 10 on safety at regional airlines.

Other lawmakers signing the letter were Sens. Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat and Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman; Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican and the committee’s ranking GOP member; and Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican and the aviation subcommittee’s ranking minority member.

Mr. Scovel and an FAA spokeswoman didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.

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