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FAA Holds Regional Airline Safety Summit

After Buffalo crash, airlines, govt. gather to discuss how to boost safety.

ByABC News
June 15, 2009, 10:06 AM

June 15, 2009— -- When Federal Aviation Administration administrator Randy Babbitt listened to the tapes and poured over the information about February's deadly plane crash in Buffalo, N.Y, he, like much of the American public, had a strong reaction.

"When I went through and listened and read the transcripts of this accident, and saw what was going on, there was a breakdown in professionalism," Babbitt told ABC News Monday. "That wouldn't happen at some carriers because they would have been taught, they would have been mentored. It simply wouldn't have happened. I want to make sure it never happens again."

Babbitt and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met in Washington, D.C., Monday with representatives from all corners of the airline business to focus on finding ways for airlines to voluntarily make flying safer.

Watch ABC News' full interview with FAA administrator Randy Babbitt and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood here.

High on the group's agenda was crafting a manifesto to reassure travelers that airlines are doing all they can to ensure pilots are beyond prepared to fly passengers to their destinations, and to help more senior pilots mentor those with less experience.

Babbitt told airline companies today he expects them to do complete background checks on pilots before hiring them to fly passengers -- including getting permission from pilots to access all of their training records. Airlines are allowed to do that today but it became clear in wake of the Buffalo crash that not all of them do.

"There's a public perception out there, unfortunately, right now that pilots can repeatedly fail check rides and still keep their jobs," Babbitt said. "We want the passengers in this country to have absolutely no doubt about the qualifications of the person or crew flying their airplane."

"I want a recommendation today about asking Congress to expand the scope of the Pilot Records Improvement Act to give employers access to all of the records available in a pilot's file," Babbitt also said.

Though current law dictates that pilots must sign a release allowing potential employers access to their training records, the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday set new expectations and strongly recommended the airlines ask for access.

"We want to be innovative," Dan Morgan, vice president of Colgan Air's safety and regulatory compliance, said last week. "We're part of an industry that's highly regulated, but there's nothing that says that we can't try to do a few things that haven't been done before."

But not everyone thinks changes can happen without federal laws to support them.

"I don't think it's going to happen voluntarily," the captain for a regional carrier who asked to remain anonymous said Monday. "It's going to have to be mandatory. You know, the FAA is actually going to have to put this into law for these airlines to change because it's going to cost the airlines money to hire more crews and to work less, so it's probably going to have to be forced upon them."

The gathering comes after several recent high-profile plane crashes that have raised concerns about travelers' safety.

The February crash of a regional plane in Buffalo, N.Y., the June crash of a massive Airbus A330 over the Atlantic Ocean and the relief of a successful emergency landing over the Hudson River in January each reminded aviation experts it's important to keep their guard up.