Airline industry officials are trying to water down a safety measure in a law passed this summer by Congress that calls for airline co-pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of flying experience, the same as required of captains, the Associated Press reports.

The push for rules easing the experience requirement is coming from a Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel dominated by airlines, companies that employ pilots to fly corporate planes and university flight schools. According to officials familiar with the panel’s deliberations, industry representatives are worried that the 1,500-hour requirement would put a premium on experience that, in turn, would force them to pay pilots more in salary and benefits.

Industry groups and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, a former airline pilot, have argued that improving the quality of pilot training is more important than increasing the minimum level of flying experience.

The advisory panel wants the minimum flight hours requirement reduced by two-thirds, to 500 hours. It would take advantage of a provision in the law allowing the FAA administrator to let academic training courses substitute for flight hours. Even with that change, however, the requirement would double the current minimum of 250 hours of flying experience.

The aviation safety law passed in July was prompted by the February, 2009, crash of a commuter plane near Buffalo, NY., that killed 50 people. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation faulted the pilots and found deficiencies in pilot hiring and training by Colgan Air, the regional carrier operating the flight for Continental.

Lawmakers who proposed the 1,500-hour flight experience rule, AP reports, hoped that the measure would do exactly what the industry is trying to avoid — raising pilot salaries.

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