FAA Honors Flight 3407 Families for their 'Tireless Advocacy' in Making Air Travel Safer

Aug. 2, 2022
A plaque paying tribute to the families' hard work will be part of a display on aviation safety at the Orville Wright Building, the FAA's headquarters.

Aug. 2—WASHINGTON — For 13 years, the Families of Continental Flight 3407 have lived as suffering reminders that one or two mistakes in the sky by one or two unprepared pilots can lead to tragedy.

But they also stand as reminders that citizens can make the government work, because the family members who lost loved ones in that February 2009 crash near Buffalo have made the skies safer.

To honor that achievement, the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday unveiled a plaque paying tribute to the families' hard work.

"Their tireless advocacy after the February 12, 2009, crash in Clarence, N.Y., established a legacy that raised the level of safety for every passenger who sets foot on a regional or mainline commercial airline flight," the plaque says.

The plaque will be part of a display on aviation safety at the Orville Wright Building, the FAA's headquarters.

"This plaque will be a constant reminder to everyone who passes by that aviation safety is about much more than the physics of the machine that lifts us or the technology that guides us," said Billy Nolen, the FAA's acting administrator, at Monday's event. "It is the promise we make to mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers of those who travel by air, that we have done everything humanly possible to keep them safe."

The FAA organized the ceremony on the 12th anniversary of the signing of the Aviation Safety Act of 2010, the landmark aviation safety law the families pushed to passage.

The event stemmed from Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who pressed the FAA to honor the Flight 3407 families for their accomplishment: an unprecedented record of safety in the skies. There have been only two fatalities on U.S. airlines in the 12 years since the safety law passed, compared to 1,186 who were killed in the prior two decades.

Several speakers at Monday's event marveled at that achievement.

"I know that your reason for acting was to try to make sense of a senseless tragedy," said Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the captain of the "Miracle on the Hudson" USAirways flight. That flight landed safely on the Hudson River after a bird strike only three weeks before the 2009 crash of Flight 3407.

"You made it your life mission to try to prevent what happened to you from ever happening to anyone else," he said. "I want to tell you: You've done that. You've succeeded."

"Your efforts have balanced the scales in favor of safety for us all," said Deborah Hersman, former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

"You have saved lives," said former Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who helped the Flight 3407 families push the aviation safety bill to passage.

The families did that by traveling to Capitol Hill dozens of times in 2009 and 2010. Clad in red, they went from one congressional hearing to the next, from one lawmaker's office to the next, armed with the blockbuster findings of a Safety Board report that blamed the crash on pilot error. And there they would stress that America needs better pilots than the ones that flew Flight 3407 into the ground — and that it was the job of Congress to pass a law to make that so.

Lawmakers eventually settled on a law that increased the amount of experience that co-pilots need five-fold. It mandated that pilots be trained to handle the kind of emergencies that the pilots of Flight 3407 failed to handle. It called for pilots to get the kind of rest that those at the controls of that doomed flight never got. And it led to creation of a pilot records database that will aim to make sure that airlines never hire a pilot with the kind of shoddy flight record that the pilot of Flight 3407 had.

"It's amazing," Higgins said of how the families pushed the bill to passage. "You should be a case study at the Kennedy School of Government."

Since Flight 3407 crashed on Feb. 12, 2009, not one U.S. commercial passenger plane has crashed, noted Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who met virtually last week with the families.

"We remember the 50 people lost on that day and thank their families for the invaluable work you've done to prevent a tragedy like that from ever happening again," Buttigieg said in a videotaped message at the ceremony.

The families aren't done fighting for aviation safety. With airlines trying to chip away at the part of the law that requires new co-pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight experience, they spent the morning before the ceremony on Capitol Hill. They returned there after a luncheon at the FAA to meet with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who led the fight for the aviation safety bill in the Senate.

Schumer was in Syracuse on Monday morning and couldn't make it back in time for the FAA event, but he spent 25 minutes with the families later in the day.

Noting that pilots routinely stop him in airports to thank him for helping pass the safety legislation, Schumer said: "As long as I'm in the Senate, they're not going to mess with our regulations."

Sullenberger and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, joined the families on their morning trip to Capitol Hill. And together they made the case for keeping the safety law as it is.

"We had a focus: that we wanted to send a very sincere and direct message that, you know, if it's necessary, we'll continue to come back here, because success will breed success and there's no reason to make any changes here," said Scott Maurer, who lost his daughter Lorin in the crash.

If those who perished on Flight 3407 could, they would have a message for the families, said Kevin Kuwik, another one of the leaders of the effort to pass the aviation safety law.

"They would say to each and every one of us in red: Don't let up. Don't relax, stay on top of it, keep fighting," Kuwik said.


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