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Colgan Air victim's dad waits for flight safety regulations

By Allan Chernoff, CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The father of a Colgan Air crash victim wants more progress on new safety rules
  • A rule addressing pilot fatigue has not been finalized or implemented
  • FAA says it has implemented safety improvements that did not require regulations
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(CNN) -- Ken Mellett's brow is furrowed as he gravely speaks of the need for more stringent air safety rules.

"I don't want to have another family go through what we're going through as we continue to grieve for our son two years later," he said.

Coleman Mellett, 34, was onboard Continental Connection Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air, when it crashed outside Buffalo, New York, in February 2009. Mellett, a guitarist for jazz musician Chuck Mangione, and 49 others were killed.

His father is frustrated that while regulators are working to improve air safety rules, there are still no new regulations in place.

"The process and timeline is extremely painstaking," Mellett said.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt, a former airline captain, has made updating pilot fatigue rules one of his highest priorities.

In a process that has been under way since the Buffalo crash, the issue has been addressed in several ways:

-- A yearlong National Transportation Safety Board investigation pointed to pilot error.

-- The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 passed. It mandates FAA impose new regulations.

-- FAA convened airlines and pilots to negotiate new rules.

-- That led FAA to propose pilots have at least nine hours off between flights -- an increase of an hour -- more rest weekly, and monthly and annual flight time restrictions. Rest periods would also factor in time zones crossed, number of takeoffs and landings and the time of day the pilot flies.

-- As with all proposed regulations, there was a mandatory 60-day comment period.

-- Now FAA is writing a final rule to be issued no later than August 1, although airlines will then be permitted more time to implement the new regulations.

"To say you don't get frustrated trying to get things changed would be an understatement," said Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, which has a history of confrontation with the airline industry over pilot rest rules. "It's been a long time coming."

The FAA said it moved quickly to implement safety improvements that did not require new regulation.

"The FAA has taken action to strengthen pilot hiring, training and performance over the last two years," the agency said.

Administrator Babbitt's 2009 Call to Action on Airline Safety included inspections of airline training, requests for major carriers to better coordinate safety programs with regional airlines that fly their short-haul flights, and an appeal for airlines to have pilot applicants disclose their full FAA records. (Flight 3407 Capt. Marvin Renslow did not inform Colgan Air that he had repeatedly failed flight tests.)

Other steps to improve air safety also are under way. Their timeline is lengthier than the pilot fatigue issue.

FAA later this year will issue another rule requiring airlines to teach pilots to recover from a stall and provide re-training for aviators who have displayed poor performance.

Congress is demanding a requirement for more flight experience to earn the highest pilot license, known as an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate -- at least 1500 flight hours, six times the current minimum. The FAA has until August 2013 to issue that rule.

"The timeline it takes to get these things enacted and deal with bureaucracy is a real challenge to speed and urgency," Mellett said. "All of us from flight 3407 have urgency because the next accident could be tomorrow."