Airlines' Safety Record Hampers Change

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More than three and a half years have passed since the last airline fatality in the U.S., The Associated Press reported last week, and that record is making it harder for the FAA to impose expensive new safety rules on the industry. Overall, the last 10 years have been the safest time ever for the airlines. "The extraordinary safety record that has been achieved in the United States ironically could be the single biggest reason the FAA isn't able to act proactively and ensure safety into the future," Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, told the AP. The FAA started to work on new rules for training airline pilots in 1999, the AP says. The process was revisited after the Colgan crash in 2009, and the new rules are not expected to take effect until 2019.

"We're doing rulemaking in a system that is very, very safe," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the AP. "Sometimes it does get to be difficult to produce the cost justification for the kinds of rules that we're promoting." The lack of rulemaking doesn't mean a lack of progress, however. The airline industry and the FAA have been working together to continuously improve pilot training and safety protocols. "There are literally hundreds of people at all the airlines collecting and analyzing data," Margaret Gilligan, FAA's associate administrator for safety, told the AP. "They are working with us voluntarily on all kinds of committees to share that data among themselves because there are things we want an airline to find out and fix for itself." But Tom Haueter, a former head of the NTSB's aviation safety office, cautioned against complacency. "I talk to people all the time who say we have this fantastic accident rate and we've cured all these problems," he said. "But I think if we forget the lessons of the past, we might have to relive them."