Americans this year have seen the best and possibly some of the worst from commercial airline pilots. The casualty-free ditching into the Hudson River of a US Airways flight that had been disabled by birds shortly after taking off in New York en route to Charlotte will go down as an epic example of skilled airmanship by pilot Chesley Sullenberger III. But investigation of the crash of a regional carrier's flight in Buffalo, killing everyone on board, turned up evidence of slack conduct by pilots with subpar performance records.
That incident concentrated minds at the Federal Aviation Administration, which last week intensified its scrutiny of smaller airlines' pilot training programs. And today, the agency convenes an industry-wide meeting to address a range of safety issues. Among the likely topics will be the relationship of large airlines to their regional partners. Pilots' pay and working conditions at those smaller outfits can leave much to be desired.
Although air travel has a good safety record overall, the FAA labors under a reputation of being reluctant to crack the safety whip. Congress appears ready to give that whip a whirl unless the FAA can tighten up on its own. Even one accident such as the one in Buffalo is one too many.