Pilot Training Issue Sparks Bitter Debate

After a Colgan Air plane flying as Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo last year -- following a series of pilot errors -- a broad coalition of safety and industry officials agreed that regional airline pilots needed more training. But that's apparently where the agreeing ends.

A contentious debate has ensued with one of themost divisive issues the proposed increase in the hours of flight experience a pilot must have before carrying passengers, reports USA Today.

The current minimum is 250 hours. An advisory panel to the Federal Aviation Administration recommended in September that the minimum be raised to 1,500 hours.

But the aviation industry, along with universities that teach aviation, oppose the increase, saying there is no evidence that the increase will improve safety.

"What is the magic in 1,500 hours?" Gary Kiteley, executive director of the Aviation Accreditation Board International, which sets standards for colleges that teach aviation, tells the newspaper.

Pilots unions are divided on the issue as well.

Some have joined relatives of the victims of the deadly crash in suggesting that economics may be a factor for those who oppose the flight experience increase -- a charge airlines, universities and other pilot unions say is untrue.

Scott Maurer, whose daughter Lorin died on Flight 3407, says he finds aviation industry opposition to raising the minimum pilot training hours to 1,500 infuriating.

"In the end, it's like a surgeon or a violinist," Maurer says. "You can read and you can study, but until you pick up the scalpel or pick up the violin and play it, that's where ... you put your learning into practical use."

Meanwhile, the FAA is writing proposed new standards for airline pilots that are due out as soon as next month.
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