FAA Gets Tough on Regional Airlines

Shocking revelations that emerged from the February plane crash in Buffalo, N.Y., which killed 50 people, might have appalled the traveling public, but many pilots didn't find them surprising.

National Transportation Safety Board hearings on the Colgan Air flight's Buffalo crash revealed a number of seemingly dangerous issues, including cockpit errors, pilots' lack of sleep and lack of training. But many pilots told ABC News they've seen them all before.

VIDEO: Regional Airlines Under Scrutiny
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"The FAA doesn't require it -- so why do it?" Leonard Cobb, a former regional airline pilot, recently told ABC News. "That's the airlines' attitude: If it is not required by the FAA, we're going to do our training as cheap as possible."

Today the Federal Aviation Administration established a new norm.

Starting immediately, all regional airlines will be scrutinized by FAA inspectors for the training they offer to pilots, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA administrator Randy Babbitt announced Tuesday. FAA inspectors will examine whether regional airlines are following the letter of the law and offering adequate training programs to pilots.

The change comes a day before Congress examines the issue Wednesday, where it's likely the FAA and regional airlines alike are expecting to get grilled.

"I have no greater obligation than to ensure the safety of airline travelers in this country," LaHood said today in a statement.

The regional airlines voiced support for the new emphasis on federal oversight of pilot training.

"Safety always has been and always will be our No. 1 priority," said Regional Airline Association President Roger Cohen. "We support all steps DOT Secretary LaHood and FAA administrator Babbitt call for to make this happen."

Low Pay, Less Seasoned Pilots

In St. Louis, the wife of a regional pilot who asked that her name be withheld to protect her husband's privacy, said today that although she believes the regional airlines' training programs are adequate for pilots coming in with a significant amount of experience, they may not be enough for newer pilots right out of flight school who have logged fewer hours.

"My biggest problem is hiring people with minimal hours," she said. "That's where the airline training that they provide is maybe not adequate."

But she added that the less the airlines pay, the less likely they are to attract well-trained pilots with lots of hours in the air.

"I'm not suggesting airlines don't train pilots right, I'm just saying they may not hire the right caliber people. The right people walk away from $16,000 jobs."

Instead, those they hire "may be still living with their parents, just got out of flight school, maybe have fewer hours -- these are the guys the airlines resort to when they have no one else."

"Maybe they have a good day and they pass the first time around," she said. "They are still, in my opinion, a liability."

At the same time, the outlook is grim for frustrated, seasoned pilots at the regional carriers who have very little upward mobility.

"My husband has over 4,000 hours, but since the majors aren't hiring and since corporate jets are taken out of commission, there's nowhere else to go for him right now."

From Regional Airlines to Air France, Safety Takes Center Stage

The regional pilot training announcement is one of several changes under way this week -- all intended to make flying safer.

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