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Buffalo air crash could have been avoided: expert

Airline pilots face sweeping changes in the way they are trained, if proposals released by the Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday go into effect. They are being called the most significant changes in 20 years - especially when it comes to smaller airlines.

But on "The Early Show" Thursday, Mark Rosenker, a former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman and now a CBS News aviation safety expert, said, if these proposed changes had been in place sooner, it could have saved many lives in the 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 in Buffalo, N.Y. The plane stalled and plummeted to the ground as it approached the airport to land. CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano noted the crash was blamed partly on faulty training of the pilot. Forty-nine people on board and a man in a house below were killed.

Buffalo crash pilot's skills questioned

Rosenker told co-anchor Erica Hill he believes the Colgan Air crash would have been avoided if the proposals had been in force.

The FAA's proposed new guidelines, Quijano said, are strict and could overhaul training techniques for the nation's airline pilots.

Greg Feith, a former NTSB investigator, told CBS News, "The level of discipline, the type of training, the quality of training - and I think that's the key word is the 'quality' of training - is going to be scrutinized.

Among the proposals, Quijano pointed out, is requiring the use of advanced flight simulators to train for real-world emergency scenarios and remedial training for pilots who fail key tests.

Feith told CBS News, "It was that Buffalo accident that really pushed it to the edge and now required action, and of course, Congress stepped in and said immediate action is necessary."

That action, Quijano reported, is now one step closer to reality.

Rosenker said on "The Early Show," "This is a really big change in the way the philosophy of training at the FAA, and for the air carriers. They're going to require the pilots to demonstrate proficiency in critical skills, rather than just read in a syllabus and take a test. (It's a) very important step to raise the bar of safety."

Co-anchor Hill asked, "These are things, just clear up for us, the things that they're going to have to prove they can do now on these simulators. Did pilots actually have to prove those skills in the past? Or simply that they had, as you say, read the manual?"

Rosenker said, "No, in some cases you actually had to recognize that you were approaching the stall. But in the more advanced simulators, you're actually able to put these pilots into stalls, into upsets, and let them demonstrate their skills in being able to recover."

He said, "We learned a lot after the Colgan accident and the investigation that followed. There were many recommendations that came out, and this is clearly one of the ones that, in fact, the FAA has listened to, and frankly, when they do finally implement these rules, we'll see a much safer system."

But when could these rules be implemented?

Rosenker said the process "takes awhile."

"It could be months. It could be years," he said. "But they are moving forward, and I have to make that compliment to them. And frankly, the carriers themselves, once they see what these rules are really looking like, they're already stepping up to the plate."

Hill pressed, "You think they'll do this? Because it's expensive, too. Those simulators are very expensive. And that's just one part of it."

"That's right," Rosenker replied. "But the reality of life is, is they will bring that money back significantly on a return in investment, when they find that their pilots are much, much safer and providing a much better service to their passengers."

The proposals for change also include recommendations for the crew, as well.

Rosenker explained, "We're talking about the first officers, there will be increased hours in the simulator. We're talking about captains training with the first officers to do crew resource management. The flight attendants are going to have a more rigorous program. And even the dispatchers are going to be brought in to this."

Hill added, "So everyone is a part of it and they would be updated yearly in some cases. In less of a time, six or even nine months."

Issues with passenger safety, Hill remarked have been making headlines lately. Could someone storm the cockpit?

"It's virtually impossible to get into the cockpit today," Rosenker said. "After September 11th, the government required a much more stringent door to be put in, a much more robust door. These are very strong doors. You cannot bust them down. You cannot even shoot through them with small arms. You're not getting into the cockpit - that I can guarantee you."

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