US Senator says deal in works to resolve FAA pilot training dispute

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican Senator John Thune said on Tuesday a deal is in the works to resolve a months-long standoff over pilot training requirements that has stalled a major aviation reform bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives in July voted to pass legislation to raise the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age to 67 from 65 and make other aviation reforms as part of a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Thune said talks had produced an “acceptable deal” on the pilot training issue but it was not final. He said the agreement “deals with the pilot shortage, pilot supply issue and incorporates some of the best and greatest technology” for pilot training.

The Senate bill has been held up by a dispute over whether to change pilot training requirements that were imposed after the February 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo that killed 50 people, the last major U.S. passenger airline fatal crash.

The House bill initially would have allowed allow pilots to complete 150 hours of required training in a flight simulator, but that was rejected by lawmakers. Pilots currently can count 100 hours toward their required 1,500 training hours in a flight simulator.

Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell said Tuesday she needed to review the language of the proposed agreement.

“There was a breakthrough from that hearing that we had before we left… I am hopeful that we will be able to do something.” She said it is possible the committee could take up the FAA bill next week.

Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Tammy Duckworth were among those involved in the talks in recent days, sources said. The agreement would authorize advanced simulator technology as part of enhanced training the FAA could approve.

The House bill passed in July would bar airlines from charging fees to allow families to sit together on flights but did not approve additional round-trip flights at Washington Reagan National Airport sought by Delta Air Lines.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)