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2 Investigators: Are Airline Pilots Getting Enough Training?

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Tougher pilot training standards, expected to be released next week, have fallen victim to the government shutdown. Those fighting for the now-delayed federal rules say the changes could make regional flights safer.

Regionals account for about half the daily U.S. flights, but the pilots often are lower paid, with less experience and may have less training compared to major carriers. CBS 2’s Dave Savini investigates.

Continental Flight 3407 crashed into a Buffalo, New York neighborhood. There were no survivors. This was a regional flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Buffalo, New York.

Fifty people perished that day in 2009, including Lorin Maurer, Scott Maurer’s daughter.

“It’s tough,” said Scott Maurer. “It’s very tough.”

Federal officials say the pilot failed to react to warnings that the plane was going into a stall.

“He created the stall because of his inexperience and not totally understanding the sophistication of the aircraft,” said Maurer. “We are told that he actually could have recovered from that stall had he had the hands on training and experience.”

Airline passengers may think all pilots are trained the same, but that is just not true and aviation experts say it could mean trouble in the sky.

Bob Sisk, a United Airlines captain and a pilot union safety expert, says hands on stall training in advanced flight simulators is a must. He says it is something pilots for regional airlines may not get to the degree that a major airline pilot gets. He says it is critical training.

“It’s a startling event,” Sisk says about an airplane stall. “And it is a point where the plane is no longer flying so you must take immediate action.”

Maurer says it took the Buffalo crash to prompt the FAA to finally move towards making real-life stall training in simulators a requirement for pilots.

“The training levels at the regional airlines are substantially lower than what you find at the majors,” said Maurer. “Many of them cannot afford the expense of training in simulators.”

He cites two other crashes involving stalls prior to the Buffalo crash. In 2003, a U.S. Airways Express in North Carolina resulted in 21 deaths. In 2004, there were two deaths when a Northwest Airlink plane stalled in Missouri.

“In the end, most crashes do come down to pilot error,” said Maurer who wants the Federal Aviation Administration to take action.

Sisk says even when new rules pass, airlines can still get around them.

“In almost all the regulations the FAA puts out, there’s ways for airlines to get waivers,” said Fisk.

“We don’t want you to experience a tragedy like we have,” said Maurer.

Even when new rules are passed, it will be five more years before they are implemented.

There have been some other safety rule changes. In August, there was a major increase in the minimum required flight experience for new pilots. In January, new rules will take effect reducing pilot work hours. Too many reported making mistakes in the cockpit because of being sleep deprived.