Press

WASHINGTON— U.S. Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) today wrote Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta requesting he address recent FAA rule changes that have led to canceled flights in Nebraska. Huerta is scheduled to testify tomorrow before the Senate Commerce Committee, where Fischer will have the opportunity to question him directly.

The Western Nebraska Regional Airport in Scottsbluff was averaging four flights a day, but is now struggling to complete a single flight in recent weeks because of changes to training and cumulative flight hour requirements for pilots. Officials with the airport and the airport’s main carrier are concerned about meeting demand for air travel under the changes.

“The safety of airline crews and travelers are of the utmost importance,” the Senators write. “It is also important that rules and regulations designed to improve safety do not unnecessarily burden the communities and industries most affected by the new standards.”

A recent aviation accident rightly prompted an examination of airline safety standards, but these new standards may unnecessarily burden smaller carriers and regional airports by creating a shortage of pilots.

The full text of the letter is available HERE or below: 

January 14, 2014 

The Honorable Michael P. Huerta
Administrator
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591

Dear Administrator Huerta:

We write to you today to discuss pilot shortages that are negatively impacting Western Nebraska Regional Airport in Scottsbluff.  These pilot shortages have caused the main airline carrier that services this airport to cancel dozens of flights in recent months.  On average, Western Nebraska Regional Airport completes four flights per day.  However, it has struggled to complete one flight per day in recent weeks.  As a result, airport officials are concerned about meeting demand for air travel.  

We are told that the change in minimum required flight hours, more commonly known as the “1,500 hour rule,” for holding an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate may be one of the leading causes of this shortage.  Beginning August 1, 2013, prospective civilian pilots are now required to increase their training hours by about 1,250 hours to be eligible to fly for an airline.  Airport officials have told us that the “1,500 hour rule” has caused their main carrier to go from 300 pilots to 130 pilots. 

In addition, new rules that address pilot fatigue and minimum uninterrupted rest requirements have increased concern among airport officials.  The culmination of these two rules has made it challenging for their main airline carrier to recruit and retain pilots.  If Western Nebraska Regional Airport cannot provide consistent and reliable service, the community will be forced to drive to Denver, Colorado, the nearest large hub, for service.

We understand that you will be testifying this Wednesday, January 15, 2014, at a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing.  We respectfully request that you address this issue at the hearing in an effort to better understand the complexities of the rules and their impacts on regional airline carriers and smaller airports.

The Colgan Flight 3407 accident correctly placed aviation safety standards under closer examination.  The safety of airline crews and travelers are of the utmost importance.  It is also important that rules and regulations designed to improve safety do not unnecessarily burden the communities and industries most affected by the new standards.  As we write this letter, we are hearing about additional airports in our state that are negatively impacted by these rule changes.  We suspect small, regional airports throughout the country are facing similar issues.  Thus it is important for you to address this publicly at the upcoming hearing.

We look forward to hearing your testimony and your comments regarding pilot shortages on Wednesday. 

Mike Johanns
United States Senator 

Deb Fischer
United States Senator