East Bay Congressman introduces airport safety bill with aviation hero's support

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A near miss at SFO two years ago that nearly caused one of the worst aviation accidents in American history led to the introduction of a new bill in congress on Thursday.

The Safe Landings Act is sponsored by East Bay Congressman Mark DeSaulnier in consultation with one of the best known names in flying: Retired airline Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

RELATED: Air Canada flight nearly lands on taxiway at San Francisco International Airport

Everyday at SFO, pilots make landings look so easy. But on a July night two years ago, a nearly botched landing could have killed hundreds.

On that night, the pilots of an Air Canada jet were heading for a landing on what they thought was a runway. It was in fact a taxi-way with four jets lined up, containing a thousand passengers.

Seconds before disaster, they pulled up. Sully Sullenberger says it was a warning.

"We have made aviation safe enough that we can no longer define safety solely as the absence of accidents," he said.

Sullenberger of Danville stood alongside DeSaulnier as he unveiled his new bill, the Safe Landings Act.

Sullenberger is known for his miracle on the Hudson, landing his stricken plane on the river with no casualties.

DeSaulnier says he consulted with Sullenberger, pilots unions and safety experts before introducing the bill.

"It's human factors, it's looking at how we make sure the pilots, as well trained as they are continue to use technology to make sure what happened here which came so close to being a huge disaster doesn't happen again," DeSaulnier said.

RELATED: Air Canada issues new report on dramatic near miss at SFO last year

His bill would require that airlines use existing systems or install new ones that alert the pilot and air traffic control when a plane is not properly lined up on a runway and that new safety technology be developed along with best practices on training pilots to better use existing and future tech.
In a statement, the FAA told us on Thursday that they are already working on it. They said:

"We are modifying existing radar systems to issue an alert when an aircraft is lined up for a taxiway rather than a runway."

FAA says its already in use at ten airports, and soon to be at 12 more. DeSaulnier's bill would allocate $20 million to get the ball rolling. He believes he has a good chance in the house, but the Republican controlled senate is another matter.

"Unfortunately, common sense is not very common in the U.S. Congress right now," he said.

He also expects push back from the airline industry, which may balk at investing more money in an already safe system.

Here's Sullenberger's reply: "When it comes to costs, nothing is more expensive than an accident."
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