The regional and commuter airline industry has grown immensely since the Airline Deregulation Act
. In 1992, they carried 45 million passengers to hundreds of communities. That number rose to 62 million in 1997 and is expected to almost double to 117 million by the year 2009.
Commuter airlines, those using aircraft with 30 or fewer passenger seats, historically had a higher accident rate than airlines with larger planes, which flew under more stringent safety regulations. Part of the reason for the higher accident rates may have been that commuter airline accident statistics include bush operations in Alaska, which pose more risks than the average commuter airline flight in the lower 48 states. However, some of the disparity in accident rates may have been the result of less stringent regulations, especially those governing pilot training and qualifications. The Safety Board issued numerous safety recommendations advocating "one level of safety" to bring commuter airline regulations more in line with stricter regulations governing the operation of larger aircraft, which call for the installation of safety devices like altitude encoding transponders, ground proximity warning systems, and cockpit voice recorders.
In 1994, the Safety Board addressed the larger issue of why regional and commuter operations were subjected to a separate level of regulation, and determined that to the extent possible, commuter airlines should operate under the same regulations as scheduled airlines operating larger planes. In particular, the Board recommended that FAA surveillance and commuter regulations concerning pilot training, scheduling, dispatch services, airport certification, airline management oversight, be aligned as much as possible with requirements for the larger airlines. In December 1995, the FAA issued a final rule that brought commuter airline flights in aircraft having 10 or more passenger seats under the safety standards of the large air carrier rules. Under this rule commuter airlines were certified under the more stringent safety regulations in 1997.