Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Thursday blasted a proposal being pushed by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema that could alter how much training a pilot needs to fly a commercial aircraft, saying lawmakers will have “blood on your hands” if they support the changes she is seeking.

“Now is not the time to put corporate profits ahead of the lives of our constituents who may want to board a commercial flight in the future,” said Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Army veteran helicopter pilot who chairs the Senate subcommittee in charge of aviation. “A vote to [change the training rules] for pilots will mean blood on your hands when the inevitable accident occurs as a result of an inadequately trained flight crew.”

This is from Irie Sentner, “‘Blood on your hands’: Duckworth blasts Sinema for pilot training proposal,” Politico, June 15, 2023.

Actually, Senator Duckworth has it exactly wrong. If she and her colleagues in the Senate stop this change, they will be the ones with figuratively blood on their hands.

To understand why, we need to look at the proposed change.

Christian Britschgi  of Reason nicely lays out some of the facts in this June 16 article. Before a 2009 Colgan Air crash in upstate New York, which was blamed on pilot error, killed 50 people, aspiring pilots had to log 250 hours of flight time. After that crash Congress six-tupled the requirement, raising it to 1,500 hours.

Britschgi writes:

Safety regulators haven’t found any relationship between the hour cap and safety. Airlines say the 1,500-hour rule is contributing to a worsening pilot shortage.

Remember how dangerous it was to fly before 2009? Me neither.

Flying is one of the safest things we do and it was one of the safest things we did before 2009. When I tell someone I’m flying somewhere and get the almost-inevitable “Have a safe flight,” I reply, “That’s the safest thing I’ll do that day.”

The proposal that Senator Sinema backs would not repeal the 1,500-hour requirement. Rather, it would allow aspiring pilots to count up to 250 hours of simulator training toward the 1,500 hours. The current number that can be applied is only 100 hours.

This change will make things safer. The reason is that simulator training is so much more effective than simply flying.

When pilots fly, really bad things rarely happen and so they don’t know much about how to react. They could easily go 1,500 hours without any really bad thing happening. When they train on a simulator, by contrast, they get hit with situations to which they have to react. That’s the whole point of a simulator.

A friend of a friend is a retired Boeing 747 pilot who trains pilots on simulators. He recently told my friend that he has pilots who come to Miami, where he is, on Alitalia and other airlines and on the simulator, they quickly fly it into the ground. He gives them a bad thing to respond to in each training session and they learn how to respond. So substituting 150 hours on a simulator is worth way more than the foregone 150 hours on an actual flight. QED.

So it’s people like Tammy Duckworth who are trying to block this change who will have blood on their hands.