While flight attendants from dozens of airlines joined two congresswomen today to unveil new airline cabin safety legislation, critics question why hijack and “air rage” response training is not included in the measure.

Flight attendants representing the Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO, were scheduled to join Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., this afternoon in Washington to introduce the new bill.

Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y.

The legislation would standardize the training flight attendants across the industry receive and certify cabin-crew members after completion of their training. Detractors insist, however, the new program will not really change or improve anything in the industry.

That training is said to include handling emergency evacuations, medical emergencies and fires onboard aircraft.

The AFA says currently flight attendants are the only safety and security-sensitive airline employees who are not certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. As such, the level of training they receive to respond in emergency situations varies significantly from airline to airline.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

The training received will be that already developed by the FAA. The lack of standardization has occurred because airlines can easily receive “waivers” that exempt them from the requirements.

AFA spokeswoman Dawn Deeks said waivers would become harder to obtain under the new legislation.

“The whole reason flight attendants are on airplanes is for safety,” said Deeks. “If it was just about handing out drinks and peanuts, we would have been replaced by vending machines a long time ago.”

Lack of anti-hijacking training

A glaring omission in safety remains however, according to Deeks. That omission is the lack of hands-on training to deal with hijacking and “air rage” issues.

Deeks said the AFA wants 28 hours of anti-hijacking training per attendant and said the Transportation Security Administration had been dragging its feet in supplying a program. Deeks said the TSA is supposed to be working one out but so far has failed to deliver.

“It was included in the 2001 legislation,” said Deeks, “but it was never done. It was re-legislated in the Homeland Security Act, but the problem was some of the goals were taken out of the congressional language. It lacks a minimum hour requirement and allows airlines to do very little.”

Deeks said the AFA is looking to fortify that legislative language with specific requirements.

Aviation-security expert David Forbes, president of the BoydForbes Security group is wary of today’s announcement.

Said Forbes: “My first observation is that if we look at emergency evacuation, medical response and fire-fighting – those are types of response actions, not preventative ones, and as such are typical of the flawed law-enforcement and regulatory-based safety culture prevalent in America today.”

“Besides,” he added, “I thought they already had improved training awareness of such issues.”

He added that mandating such a program raises questions of cost to an already flagging airline industry.

“If you consider the numbers of hours flight attendants work, by their numbers and the large turnover rate, as well as the cost of trainers and training materials, this transition will represent a significant cost,” said Forbes.

” I hope they have the budget figures worked out and insist they are used for that and not diverted to bolster the airlines,”he added wryly.

More than 50,000 flight attendants at 26 airlines join together to form AFA, the world’s largest flight attendant union.

“Mandating it is a joke,” Forbes cautions, adding that the historical pattern in government is a failure to enforce. “I’ve noticed that all the agencies avoid the word ‘accountability’ while freely using the term ‘responsibility.’ Accountability is a word that comes from the families of the victims of 9-11 and the [Flight] 103 disaster.”

“It’s a mess, isn’t it? An almighty mess,” he said.

Deeks, however, said the criticism was unfounded, explaining, “Certification of flight attendants would be at an almost insignificant cost since the training files already exist at the airline level; they just need to transmit them to the FAA for the certification process. And once the TSA program is developed, we’ve asked that the security-training costs be paid for by the government, just like the pilot security-training costs.”

The spokeswoman said that the certification standards set into law would simply apply to the new anti-hijacking training once it is available.

“It’s now two years since 9-11 and there’s nothing significantly different in cabin security since,” said Deeks, “and people have the right to expect that it would be.”

She emphasized getting the TSA to implement a hands-on anti-hijacking and personal security program was a top priority for the AFA.

“We’re first responders, and no one ever sits quietly again when a hijacking takes place.”

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