Safety trainer worries about lesser airline training

A safety official plans to tell members of Congress on Tuesday that she's worried that airlines are trending more toward teaching flight attendants how to swipe credit cards and other customer services than improving safety training.

The Charlotte-bound flight that safely crash landed in New York's Hudson River last month, allowing all 155 occupants to evacuate and be rescued, demonstrated the benefits of good safety training, said Candace Kolander, coordinator of air safety, health and security for the Association of Flight Attendants union.

"The evacuation of Flight 1549 reminded everyone around the world in stunning fashion, just exactly what the role and purpose of flight attendants are (as) in-flight safety professionals," Kolander said in testimony prepared for delivery Tuesday at a hearing of the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "Years of cultural attitudes have often relegated flight attendants to nothing more than 'servers in the sky' in the eyes of some. In fact, airline management itself often seems intent on pushing this attitude further by adding more and more 'customer service' type training for flight attendants, often at the neglect of important safety and security training.""

Kolander said she's encouraged that Jan. 12, three days before the US Airways crash, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a proposal to update crew and dispatcher training.

Tuesday's hearing is Congress' first examination of the flight that was dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson" after Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger glided the jet into the river shortly after takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport. The plane's engines lost power, apparently when they sucked in birds from a flock flying in its path.

The National Transportation Safety Board said last week it plans to hold a hearing this spring or summer that will focus on emergency training for crew, the structural integrity of the Airbus A-320, turbofan engine standards for bird ingestion, and technologies for detecting large groups of birds.

The Flight 1549 pilots have said they saw birds, and remnants were found when the plane was recovered from the frigid waters of the Hudson.

The five-member crew, as well as the air traffic controller Patrick Harten, are scheduled to testify on the first congressional panel Tuesday. Later, the FAA, the NTSB and other safety officials will take the witness seats.

Kolander, from the flight attendants union, said Flight 1549's years of hands-on experience was crucial in the incident.

"If the airlines can spend a great deal of time and money training flight attendants how to use credit card swiping devices, surely they can commit the time and resources necessary for vital, hands-on safety training," she said. "We are hopeful that working through the new (FAA regulatory proposal) on flight attendant training we can keep a focus on the need for hands-on, realistic training," she said.

Currently, hands-on training on some emergency equipment is required every 24 months, but the new proposal would increase that to every 12 months.

Kolander said that the FAA has allowed more "homestudy or computer-based training," and that can be "as simple as filling in blanks in a notebook, watching a video or a similar activity."

Planes vs. Wildlife

Wildlife strikes cause more than 550,000 hours of lost aircraft time, at a cost of $500 million every year, with birds accounting for about 97 percent of those collisions. Deer, coyotes and alligators are responsible for some of the others.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services; House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee