WASHINGTON – Two regional airlines in Maryland would be required to modify some of their planes to comply with safety regulations proposed last month by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Florida Gulf, which serves Hagerstown, and Liberty Express, which serves Cumberland, would see additional costs because of the rules, said Farah Sproul, spokeswoman for Mesa Air Group, which owns the two carriers.
But, Sproul said, “we’re willing to make that investment to help eliminate the perception of safety concerns.”
Lisa Campbell, an FAA spokeswoman, said the proposed changes could cost small airlines nationwide $274 million over the next 10 years.
On the average, consumers would pay an extra 68 cents on a 20- to 30-seat airplane and $1.71 each trip on smaller planes, she said.
But, Campbell said, tremendous growth in the commuter airline industry over the past 20 years made the rules necessary. “Dramatic growth requires a dramatic change in the rules that govern the industry,” she said.
The FAA issued the proposed rules March 24, after commuter airline crashes in Indiana and North Carolina last year killed 83 people.
The regulations could prevent 94 accidents in the next 10 years, Campbell said.
The regulations would hold small airlines to the same standards as major carriers.
Aircraft with fewer than 30 seats now follow a separate set of regulations.
Under the proposed rules, small airlines would be required to have a flight dispatch center, a flight safety officer and a ground de-icing crew. Their pilots would have to limit flying time to 1,000 hours a year, Campbell said.
Sproul said Florida Gulf and Liberty Express already comply with many of the proposals. But she said the airlines would have to add floor lighting to some of their smaller airplanes and provide additional training for co-pilots.
A third small carrier in Maryland, Salisbury-based Piedmont Air, would not be affected by the regulations because all of its airplanes have more than 30 seats, said Stephen Farrow, vice president of operations.
Deborah McElroy, vice president of the Regional Airlines Association, said the additional costs could be a burden.
“A number of the proposals would be extremely expensive,” she said. “If those proposals are implemented, it’s very possible that some communities could lose their scheduled airline services.”
McElroy said the changes may have been proposed more in response to public fears than to actual safety problems. She said the accident rate for commuter airlines declined in 1994.
“There are some members of the travelling public who mistakenly perceive that smaller airlines are not safe. To the extent that this corrects that perception, it’s important,” McElroy said. The regulations are expected to take effect in December, following a period for public comment. -30-