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Fatal air crash decline presents safety challenge

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s been 43 months since the last deadly airline crash in the United States, the longest period without a fatal domestic accident since commercial aviation expanded after World War II. That sounds like unvarnished good news, but one consequence of having such a remarkable record is that it’s difficult to justify imposing costly new safety rules on the economically fragile industry.

In analyzing costs and benefits, federal rules assign a value of $6.2 million to each life saved. Even modest changes in regulations can cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars when spread across a number of years.

“The extraordinary safety record that has been achieved in the United States ironically could be the single biggest reason the (Federal Aviation Administration) isn’t able to act proactively and ensure safety into the future,” said Bill Voss, president of the industry-funded Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, which promotes global airline safety. The past decade has been the airline industry’s safest ever.

Last year, the FAA revised rules on pilot work schedules and rest periods to address concerns that tired pilots were making mistakes, sometimes with fatal results. But the agency dropped requirements that would have extended the new rules to cargo carriers. FAA officials said the rule changes would have cost the cargo industry as much as $300 million over 10 years.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has urged cargo executives to voluntarily comply with the new rules, but so far he’s had no takers.

“We’re doing rulemaking in a system that is very, very safe,” LaHood said in an interview. “Sometimes it does get to be difficult to produce the cost justification for the kinds of rules that we’re promoting.”

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