July 18, 2023

Duckworth Introduces New Legislation to Address Aviation Safety Crisis by Strengthening Pilot Training

Senator’s new legislation would enhance 1,500-hour rule to require higher quality flight hours and keep flying public safe


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – As FAA reauthorization negotiations continue and our nation faces an ongoing aviation safety crisis, U.S. Senator and pilot Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)—member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation—introduced the Experienced Pilots Save Lives Act to strengthen pilot training standards and uphold the 1,500-hour rule, which was enacted in 2010 after the last commercial aviation crash caused by pilot error. There has not been a single civilian death caused by pilot error in commercial aviation since the rule was enacted. With this new legislation, Duckworth is holding the line on safety as some Senators continue to consider watering down pilot certification standards by decreasing flying hours at the risk of public safety amid a spike in near-miss incidents in our commercial aviation system.

“When it comes to our nation’s pilot training and the safety of the flying public, life-saving instincts must be earned through hours of hard work and dedicated flight time piloting real aircraft with real stakes,” said Duckworth. “That’s why today I’m introducing the Experienced Pilots Save Lives Act, which would help address the aviation safety crisis by strengthening the quality of flight hours required by the 1,500-hour rule to ensure our nation’s pilots are as prepared as possible to handle real-world conditions aboard commercial passenger flights.”

The Experienced Pilots Save Lives Act is endorsed by Ambassador Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Captain Jeffrey Skiles—the pilot and first officer of the “Miracle on the Hudson”—and the Families of Continental Flight 3407.

“I strongly support the Experienced Pilots Save Lives Act because I know firsthand that pilot experience is literally what makes the difference between life and death in an emergency,” said Ambassador Sullenberger.

“The flight deck of an airliner is not a classroom for trainee aviators,” said Captain Skiles. “The Experienced Pilots Save Lives Act will ensure that there are two trained, capable, and EXPERIENCED airline transport pilots at the controls of every U.S. commercial flight.”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair recently warned the aviation community to wake up and act to enhance safety before “something more catastrophic occurs” and “lives are lost.” During the unprecedented Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aviation Safety Summit in March 2023, Acting FAA Administrator warned the aviation industry that, “…the biggest mistake we can make as an industry is to become complacent.” Despite these warnings, some are still working to make flying less safe by lowering post-Colgan era minimum flight hour requirements to produce new pilots with less flying experience.

A former NTSB Chair described the spike in incidents as a red flag, “I look at them like a fever in a human body and that it is signaling that something is not right. I think these are very much precursor events that could be signaling that there’s something more serious in the system.” While the NTSB investigation of these incidents is ongoing, certain aviation experts hypothesize that air carriers conducting mass buyouts of the most experienced commercial aviation pilots, followed by a post-pandemic surge in demand for commercial air travel, created a perfect storm where higher flight volumes are necessitating widespread hiring that lowers the overall experience level of pilots, first officers, air traffic controllers and mechanics.

As one of the authors of the bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023, Duckworth successfully secured several provisions that will improve safety for consumers, expand the aviation workforce and enhance protections for travelers with disabilities. As introduced, the FAA reauthorization bill would extend FAA’s funding and authorities through the Fiscal Year 2028 without degrading pilot certification standards.

Throughout FAA reauthorization negotiations, Duckworth has been a fierce advocate of the 1,500-hour rule, having delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor on the importance of upholding the strong pilot certification standards and warning her colleagues of the deadly consequences of complacency in aviation. Duckworth’s efforts on this follow a recent surge in disturbing near-misses and close calls that prompted the FAA to hold an unprecedented safety summit and spurred an ongoing investigation by the NTSB to determine whether these frightening incidents may be precursor events that, left unaddressed, are a sign that the Part 121 system is vulnerable to a horrific crash.