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U.S. sets air safety rule, airlines must implement in three years

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(Reuters) — The U.S. government on Wednesday said it is requiring domestic airlines to put in place proactive safety measures designed to highlight risks, deter accidents and make air travel safer.

The rule by the Federal Aviation Administration, which was four years in the making, requires U.S. airlines and freight carriers to submit so-called "safety management system" plans within six months and implement them within three years, the FAA said.

While the U.S. air safety record has been improving steadily, air travel fears have been stoked by a string of high-profile accidents around the world, including the disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines jetliner last March with 239 people on board.

Last month, another Malaysia-affiliated carrier, Indonesia AirAsia, crashed near Borneo killing 162 people.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at a news conference that both the U.S. and the industry have set a goal of reducing domestic fatalities by half between 2010 and 2025.

Under the rule, airlines will need to develop a safety culture, encourage employees to report hazards and analyze their operational data for safety issues and anomalies that could point to safety concerns.

"Call it predictive safety management," Mr. Foxx said.

The FAA found 123 air accidents from 2001 to 2010 that might have been prevented if these measures were in place, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. He said 96% of those affected by the rule already gather and share data.

While the U.S. rule applies only to U.S.-based carriers, it is part of a broader effort to roll out changes globally that are being carried out by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency.

Airlines are fierce competitors "except on safety," said Nick Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, a trade group. "This is the next step in an ongoing process to find an ever-better level of safety."

The rule came about after the 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight 3407, which killed 50 people, the last fatal air accident by a U.S. passenger airline.