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Published September 16, 2020

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  • Blog:
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    Memorial Drive
    by Natasha Trethewey
The Last Flight
The Last Flight
by Julie Clark

Hardcover (2 Jun 2020), 320 pages.
Publisher: Sourcebooks
ISBN-13: 9781728215723
Genres
BookBrowse:
Critics:
Readers:
  

For fans of Lisa Jewell and Liv Constantine, The Last Flight is the story of two women - both alone, both scared - and one agonizing decision that will change the trajectory of both of their lives.

Two women. Two Flights. One last chance to disappear.

Claire Cook has a perfect life. Married to the scion of a political dynasty, with a Manhattan townhouse and a staff of ten, her surroundings are elegant, her days flawlessly choreographed, and her future auspicious. But behind closed doors, nothing is quite as it seems. That perfect husband has a temper that burns as bright as his promising political career, and he's not above using his staff to track Claire's every move, making sure she's living up to his impossible standards. But what he doesn't know is that Claire has worked for months on a plan to vanish.

A chance meeting in an airport bar brings her together with a woman whose circumstances seem equally dire. Together they make a last-minute decision to switch tickets ― Claire taking Eva's flight to Oakland, and Eva traveling to Puerto Rico as Claire. They believe the swap will give each of them the head start they need to begin again somewhere far away. But when the flight to Puerto Rico goes down, Claire realizes it's no longer a head start but a new life. Cut off, out of options, with the news of her death about to explode in the media, Claire will assume Eva's identity, and along with it, the secrets Eva fought so hard to keep hidden.

CLAIRE

Monday, February 21
The Day Before the Crash

"Danielle," I say, entering the small office that sits adjacent to our living room. "Please let Mr. Cook know I'm going to the gym."

She looks up from her computer, and I see her gaze snag on the bruise along the base of my throat, concealed with a thin layer of makeup. I automatically adjust my scarf to cover it, knowing she won't mention it. She never does.

"We have a meeting at Center Street Literacy at four," she says. "You'll be late again." Danielle keeps track of my calendar and my missteps, and I've pegged her as the one most likely to report when I don't arrive on time to meetings, or when I cancel appointments that my husband, Rory, deems important. If I'm going to run for Senate, we don't have the luxury of making mistakes, Claire.

"Thank you, Danielle. I can read the calendar as well as you can. Please have my notes from the last meeting uploaded and ready to go. I'll meet you there." As I leave the room, I hear her pick up the phone and my step falters, knowing this might draw attention at a time when I can't afford it.

People always ask what it's like being married into the Cook family, a political dynasty second only to the Kennedys. I deflect with information about our foundation, trained to keep my focus on the work instead of the rumors. On our third-­world literacy and water initiatives, the inner-city mentoring programs, the cancer research.

What I can't tell them is that it's a constant battle to find any privacy. Even inside our home, people are there at all hours. Assistants. Household staff who cook and clean for us. I have to fight for every spare minute and every square inch to call my own. There is nowhere that's safe from the eyes of Rory's staff, all of them devoted Cook employees. Even after ten years of marriage, I'm still the interloper. The outsider who needs to be watched.

I've learned how to make sure there's nothing to see.

The gym is one of the few places Danielle doesn't follow, trailing after me with her lists and schedules. It's where I meet Petra, the only friend I have left from my life before Rory, and the only one Rory hasn't forced me to abandon.

Because as far as Rory knows, Petra doesn't exist.

_______________

When I arrive at the gym, Petra is already there. I change in the locker room, and when I climb the stairs to the rows of treadmills, she's on the landing, taking a clean towel from the stack. Our eyes meet for a moment, and then she looks away as I help myself to a towel.

"Are you nervous?" she whispers.

"Terrified," I say, turning and walking away.

I run for an hour, my eyes on the clock, and when I step into the sauna at exactly two thirty with a towel wrapped around my body, my muscles ache with exhaustion. The air is thick with steam, and I smile at Petra, who sits alone on the top row, her face red with heat.

"Do you remember Mrs. Morris?" she asks when I sit down next to her.

I smile, grateful to think of something from a simpler time. Mrs. Morris was our government teacher in the twelfth grade, and Petra almost failed the class.

"You studied with me every afternoon for a month," she continues. "When none of the other kids would come near me or Nico because of who our father was, you stepped up and made sure I graduated."

I turn on the wooden bench to face her. "You make it sound like you and Nico were pariahs. You had friends."

Petra shakes her head. "People being nice to you because your father is the Russian version of Al Capone doesn't make them friends." We'd attended an elite school in Pennsylvania, where the children and grandchildren of old money viewed Petra and her brother, Nico, as a novelty, sliding up to them, as if on a dare, to see how close they could get, but never letting either of them all the way in.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from The Last Flight by Clare Clark. Copyright © 2020 by Clare Clark. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. What do Claire and Eva have in common? In what ways are they different?
  2. How do you feel about Eva's decision to manipulate Claire?
  3. Put yourself in Claire's shoes. How would it feel knowing that you've traded your life for someone else's? Would you feel guilty or fortunate? Why?
  4. Describe the obstacles Claire faces once she escapes from Rory. Were there any difficulties that surprised you?
  5. Compare Claire's relationships with other women in the book like Eva, Danielle, Petra, and Kelly. Are any of these women sim- ilar? In what way?
  6. Discuss Eva's childhood. How does it affect how she behaves as an adult?
  7. Identify some of the triggers Claire faces as a result of Rory's abuse. How do you think she can overcome them?
  8. Claire makes the difficult decision to go public with her story, knowing full well that she may be met with criticism and disbelief. Why did she make this decision? Would you have handled the situation differently?
  9. Liz is the only person Eva allows to get close to her. Describe their friendship. Why is it important to Eva? What does it mean to her?
  10. Eva faces several huge difficulties in her life. Do you think her drug dealing is justified, given her circumstances?
  11. Characterize Eva's relationship with Dex. Why does she feel be- trayed when she learns the truth about
  12. How did you feel after reading Eva's final chapter? Do you think there was anything different she could have done?
  13. What do you think Claire will do next with her life? Will she be happy?

 

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Sourcebooks. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Here are some of the recent comments posted about The Last Flight.
You can read the full discussion here, and please do participate if you wish.
Be aware that this discussion will contain spoilers!

"...in order for true forgiveness to occur, something has to die first. Your expectations, or your circumstances. Maybe your heart. And that can be painful. But it's also incredibly liberating." Do you agree?
I think, forgiveness and forgetting are two sides of the same coin. Unless you forget the hurt, it is difficult to forgive and to forgive someone for hurting you, one has to truly forget ... I think, it is very hard. - mayurij

"Identity is a strange thing. Are we who we say we are, or do we become the person others see?" What do you think?
I think people change with who they are around. Internally you are the same, but you might change your manner of speaking or the stories you tell to reflect the people near you. It seems to be a way of fitting in. - lc8558

Are there other authors or books that came to mind as you read The Last Flight that you'd compare this novel to?
The one that came to mind for me was The Gone Girl, where one of the characters is a disappearing wife. - kimk

Claire believes that Rory loves her "in his own broken way." Do you agree?
No. He shows personality typical abuser. I think family wealth helped to nurture that personality. - mayurij

Claire thinks that "in this world, money and power were equivalent to immunity." Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
I agree with Claire. Money and power can get you the best lawyers, the best health care, etc. - mildas

Do you think in our electronic age it's possible to vanish without a trace? Have you ever fantasized about running away from your life? Where would you go, and how would you achieve your disappearance?
Everyone has fantasized about running away from their current life but I don't think it's possible in this electronic age for it to happen. - susanr

Eva faces several huge difficulties in her life. Do you think her drug dealing is justified, given her circumstances?
To be justified an action it must be for an apparent good reason. I think in Eva's mind her reason was "good", but it was inherently bad and dangerous. I think she could have found better choices for herself . Basically she became immune to what ... - christineb

Eva wants to be the one to define who she was. How does she do this? Would have done this in the future?
Eva talks with Liz about pushing potential adoption couples away, wanting to be viewed for who she actually was as a person, not as the child of an addict. She does not want to be "fixed." Liz feels that Eva has come a long way in a short time. ... - Mary Alice

Eva watches a cat kill a bird at a birdbath, and felt the universe was sending her some kind of message. "The only problem was, she didn't know whether she was the cat or the bird." Which do you think she was?
Eva was a survivor so between the two she is the cat because she wouldn’t left herself so vulnerable as did the bird. She couldn’t have foreseen the plane. I just have to say I was Devastated Reading the epilogue Julie Clark fooled me I was ... - mac316

How did you feel after reading Eva's final chapter?
It disturbed me...I wish she should have been given a second chance. Life hadn't/wasn't kind to her. - mayurij

How do you feel about Eva's decision to manipulate Claire?
Eva only thought about herself and how to get out of her situation. She didn't really think about Claire and if Claire would be safe pretending to be Eva. Then again, Claire being who she was had a sort of safety net if she wanted to come out and ... - lc8558

In what ways do you think Clair and Eva are similar, and in what ways do you find they're different?
They both had heartbreak in childhood, they were survivors and both were trying to escape abusive relationships that were life threatening. I think Clair had more conscience. I don't thinks she would have turned to drugs as a way out if she were in... - charleneds

In what ways do you think the women's actions are influenced by their backgrounds? How much responsibility does each bear for the situations in which they find themselves?
I think they are very influenced by their backgrounds. But they are also influenced by their current events and they are adults and have the ability to control the way they ultimately choose to handle their situations. We are only a reflection of ... - jodig

Liz encourages Eva to return to California and turn herself in. What do you think the outcome would have been if she had? If the plane crash hadn't occurred, do you think she would have been better off fleeing?
I don't think the outcome of that would've been good. The drug trade is a dangerous one with evil people involved in it. Liz was well meaning, but she was not giving good advice. I feel that Eva did the only thing that she could do. - Carol Rainer

Overall, what do you think of The Last Flight? (no spoilers in this thread please)
I really enjoyed the book. It kept my curiosity peaked, sometimes, couldn't put it down. Only the end disturbed me. Wish it was different. Good material for a movie. - mayurij

Put yourself in Claire's shoes. How would it feel knowing that you've traded your life for someone else's? Would you feel guilty or fortunate, and why?
I believe in fate - things happen for a reason. I would feel guilty but would also feel that there was a purpose in my life and I would work towards that. I would also feel very grateful that I lived and wouldn't want to waste my life. - charleneds

Sister Bernadette would often tell the children in her care that "The only way out is through." What do you think she meant by that? Do you agree?
Sister Bernadette was a woman who wanted the children to feel that they could overcome obstacles rather than let life overwhelm them. It is a great way to look at life. We all feel overwhelmed sometimes. - Mary Alice

What do you think Claire will do next with her life? Will she be happy?
I haven't really given any thought to what Claire will do next. I was dazed by Eva's death because I thought Eva had outsmarted her circumstances and finally gotten a chance for life. Certainly Claire has gotten away from her controlling and ... - crisandy5

What obstacles did you find that Claire faces once she escapes from Rory? Were there any difficulties that surprised you?
She was accustomed to being financially secure as Rory's wife. To suddenly start worrying about money was new and frightening to her. I was thinking of the quote "The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry." Murphy's law - "If it can happen, it ... - Carol Rainer

What surprised you the most about the plot?
Connection between Danielle and Eva. And Eva's end. I think she deserved a second chance. - mayurij

Why do you think Claire goes public? Would you have handled the situation differently? How do you think peoples' reactions to women who come forward with abuse allegations has changed in the past few years?
Her primary motivation was to save her life. She had proof that Rory had gone to extreme measures in the past to protect himself (Maggie), and she had no doubt that he would have found a way to silence her as well. She could not run forever, and ... - beckyk

Why do you think Eva allows Liz to get close to her?
I agree with the general idea that Eva was hungry for a mother figure. Having been deprived of the love of a family throughout her life, she was drawn to the idea of what certainly appeared to be a sincere offering of acceptance and unconditional ... - beckyk

A fast-paced psychological thriller for the #MeToo era.

Print Article Publisher's View   

Julie Clark's second novel, The Last Flight, is the tale of two women, each desperate to escape an untenable situation. Claire seems to have an ideal life, married to a wealthy and charismatic politician widely known and admired for his philanthropy; behind the scenes, though, the man is controlling, manipulative and violent, and may very well have murdered his last paramour. Eva has made a career out of cooking drugs for a powerful dealer. She wants to change her life but knows her employer will literally have her killed if there's any hint she wishes to leave. An encounter at an airport leads the two women to swap identities, but neither truly understands that she's stepping into a situation at least as dangerous as the one she's fleeing. The plot is further complicated by the crash of the airplane Eva is to have boarded (and that Claire was originally meant to have taken).

The narrative alternates between the two women. While Claire's chapters are set in the present, Eva's are limited to the past. This makes sense and works very well; throughout the novel the author casts plenty of uncertainty about whether Eva actually got on the doomed flight, and keeping her in the past maintains the mystery of her fate up to the very end of the book. Eva's story line charts her descent from naïve college student to professional narcotics manufacturer, exploring how her experiences influenced the person she became, as well as her disappointment in herself for the damage she knowingly inflicts on others. This is a compelling approach that asks readers to ponder questions such as how much responsibility we bear for our poor decisions in life, and whether or not change is possible in some circumstances. Claire's chapters, on the other hand, focus on how she adapts to suddenly having a new life while constantly worried that her past will catch up with her. Throughout her story, readers will undoubtedly ask themselves how they would respond in similar circumstances and whether Claire makes the right choices to best protect herself.

The novel is mostly character-driven, but it does have scenes of heart-stopping suspense that keep the pages flying late into the night. I can think of several instances where I literally gasped out loud at a particularly high-stress plot twist (and it was fun watching my spouse hit those same passages and have an identical reaction). The story isn't completely airtight — there are minor cases where an action or plot point doesn't seem entirely probable — but overall I found the novel highly entertaining and it was easy to overlook the negligible flaws.

The only real shortcoming of the book is that while Claire's and Eva's characters are fully developed, the rest of the cast isn't as finely drawn; Claire's husband in particular is a cardboard villain, completely one-dimensional. A federal DEA officer closing in on the drug operation isn't much better defined, nor is Eva's next-door neighbor Liz. The author exhibits such remarkable skill in bringing her main characters to life that it's somewhat disappointing that she doesn't extend her craft to the rest of the crew.

The Last Flight is the perfect antidote for summer malaise and makes a terrific "beach read." Its fast pace and relatable main characters will undoubtedly provide a much-needed distraction for readers looking for sheer escapism. It also raises enough interesting questions to make a very good book group selection.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

New York Times
The Last Flight is thoroughly absorbing—not only because of its tantalizing plot and deft pacing, but also because of its unexpected poignancy and its satisfying, if bittersweet, resolution. The characters get under your skin.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Propulsive prose drives Clark's tale of the intersecting lives of these two smart and resourceful women, and emphasis is placed on the importance of female friendship and support. Readers will surely find themselves hopelessly invested in Claire's and Eva's ultimate fates. A tense and engaging woman-centric thriller.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The moral dilemmas that the multifaceted, realistic characters face in their quest for survival lend weight to this pulse-pounding tale of suspense. Clark is definitely a writer to watch."

Author Blurb Aimee Molloy, New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Mother
The Last Flight is everything you want in a book: a gripping story of suspense; haunting, vulnerable characters; and a chilling and surprising ending that stays with you long after the last page.

Author Blurb Kimberly Belle, internationally bestselling author of Dear Wife and The Marriage Lie
I'm a sucker for suspense stories crafted around an airplane crash, and Julie Clark's The Last Flight lived up to the hype and then some. Clark starts with a bang then keeps the pace at full throttle, deftly weaving two seemingly separate stories into one wild and entertaining ride. The perfect combination of beautiful prose and high suspense, and an ending that I guarantee will catch you off guard.

Author Blurb Kaira Rouda, internationally bestselling author of Best Day Ever and The Favorite Daughter
The Last Flight sweeps you into a thrilling story of two desperate women who will do anything to escape their lives. Both poignant and addictive, you'll race through the pages to the novel's chilling end. A must read of the summer!

Author Blurb Wendy Walker, nationally bestselling author of The Night Before
Strong women take center stage in this Breaking Bad meets Sleeping with the Enemy thriller. The Last Flight has it all - original characters, fast pacing, and clever twists, all in one explosive package!

Author Blurb Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, authors of The Two Lila Bennetts
The Last Flight will propel you headfirst into the frantic lives of two women, both determined to escape their current reality. Julie Clark weaves their stories effortlessly, delivering a pitch-perfect suspense novel that absolutely lives up to its hype. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up!

Author Blurb Kathleen Barber, author of Truth Be Told and Follow Me
Julie Clark's The Last Flight is a stunner: both a compelling, intricately woven tale of suspense and a thoughtful, nuanced portrayal of two very different women, each at a dangerous crossroads in her life. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!"

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Vivian Harrington
Loved it
I really enjoyed this book. It had some fascinating twists & turns. This is an interesting story of the lengths a woman will go to in order to escape from an abusive relationship.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Michael Colburn
A good book that lives with you long after your done
Oh I loved this book! Claire and Eva are both amazing women fighting through their own circumstances with such strength and purpose. From beginning to end you are captivated in this story. Such a creative plot that intertwines both lives and their struggles. I love the supporting cast of friends that bond with Claire and Eva. Liz is the loving nurturing supportive mother Eva never had. I think I would have preferred to not have read the epilogue though.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by llani
Suspense is undeniable
In the age of covid-19, when we all would all like to escape to the moon, Julie Clark offers up the perfect remedy. Speeding forward like a locomotive, the book pulsates with the energy of a good suspense novel, while creating heart stealing characters. Claire is married to a powerful, rich, handsome man but who abuses her physically and emotionally behind the scenes. Eva, the other main character, brought up in orphanages,has a hard time adjusting to life and gets involved in manufacturing and selling drugs to survive. Both want to escape their lives and when a chance meeting occurs at the airport they decide to switch tickets and identities. The consequence of that becomes the main focus of the book and structurally is ingeniously crafted. Friendship, "the Me Too Movement "and morality come into play in this propulsive novel that begs to be read in one fell swoop. Thank you Ms. Clark, for giving relief to part company from the real world around me.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by SjD
A Compelling Thriller
The Last Flight is a well written story of two separate women trying to escape the consequences of the decisions they have made. Chapters alternate between the characters and I found myself sympathizing with and hopeful that each of the them would succeed in their “flights”.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Book Club Cheerleader
Gotta Get Away
I loved this book from the premise--and it didn't disappoint! Fast paced, yet great attention to character development and detail. I'm a slow reader, but this one kept me turning the page. Lots to discuss for book clubs: motivation, life-style, strength/ tenacity. Highly recommend!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Victoria
Suspenseful, timely
Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks LANDMARK for providing me this ARC. I highly recommend this upcoming thriller title. It starts a bit slowly, but by the midpoint, I was hooked on the stories of the main characters and their interplay. Great suspense, right up until the end and fantastic realistic women characters. A timely story for the current state of the #MeToo movement.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Nanette S.
The Last Flight
Interesting premise - if one needed to disappear would the choice be to leave quickly, book a flight and hope to find someone at the airport needing to do the same thing? This psychological thriller does just that, Claire and Eva each need to find ways to vanish. They happen to meet at the airport and create a scheme to switch their tickets. This well written story gives enough details about the past and present of both characters to see how they parallel and intertwine throughout, enough to keep my wanting to turn the pages. Although this is being labeled as a psychological thriller, I found it to be a simmering, suspenseful story I enjoyed reading.

Print Article Publisher's View  

The Evolution of Air Travel and Airport Security

Passenger plane in sky The action in Julie Clark's novel The Last Flight begins as two women decide to switch identities at an airport and each board the other's flight. One of the two airplanes crashes into the ocean before reaching its destination.

In 2019, over 4.5 billion trips were scheduled on commercial airplanes worldwide, and 1.1 billion of these were on airlines serving the United States either domestically or internationally. It's big business, too; as of 2019, statistics reported by the FAA stated that aviation contributed more than 5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, and approximately 10.6 million jobs in the country were being generated by the industry.

Following the first successful airplane flight made by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903, the first commercial airline was a short-lived venture that took off (literally) on January 1, 1914, when two businessmen in Florida decided to try to provide routine flights between Tampa and St. Petersburg. The two cities are situated on either side of a bay, and at the time options for transport between them were limited and time-consuming. A steamship took two hours for the trip, rail took four to 12 hours, and drivers could make the journey in about 20 hours; a flight, however, would only take around 20 minutes. The airline made two flights a day, six days a week, and cost passengers $5 per trip (the equivalent of about $100 today). It only operated for four months, but carried over 1,200 passengers during that time; its last flight was on April 27, when winter residents in the area had begun to leave, decreasing the demand for the airline. Nevertheless, the experiment set the stage for later entrepreneurs.

Regular passenger flights began in the 1950s, spurred by aeronautics innovations conceived during World War II. There was no such thing as airport security, however, until United Airlines flight 629 from Denver, Colorado to Portland, Oregon exploded just after takeoff on November 1, 1955, killing all 44 individuals aboard. Investigators collected the wreckage and reassembled as much of the downed aircraft as they could. They were able to determine that the cause was a dynamite bomb placed in a piece of luggage. Suspicion quickly fell on Jack Gilbert Graham, the son of one of the passengers, who had previously been implicated in various illegal schemes and who had purchased a life-insurance policy at an airport vending machine just before his mother's flight departed. Graham admitted his crime, and showed no remorse for the collateral damage his actions caused (or for the murder of his mother, apparently). At the time, there were limited legal penalties for what he had done, so he was prosecuted only on the killing of his mother. He was found guilty and executed in the Colorado State Penitentiary gas chamber on January 11, 1957.

Perhaps surprisingly, security still wasn't extensive after that incident. The government did begin to place armed guards on planes in 1961. However, it took a rash of plane hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s for widespread restrictions to be put in place; between 1968 and 1972, there were more than 130 hijacking attempts – an average of one every other week. In 1969, increased FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) security measures started with training ticket agents to profile their customers and call for additional screening of anyone who looked suspicious. Needless to say, it wasn't a terribly effective method of deterrence. Undercover Customs Air Security Officers (aka "sky marshals") were employed starting in 1970 and an Explosives Detection Canine Team Program was added to airports in 1972. In 1973, the FAA began requiring all commercial airlines to use X-ray machines to scan luggage as well as metal detectors to screen passengers for weapons and explosive devices.

Security at airports was tightened even further in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. Restrictions on what items could be taken onto a plane went into effect (as anyone who's flown in the years since can attest), and more thorough screening measures have been put in place. Thanks to Richard Reid (aka the Shoe Bomber), many flyers also have to remove their shoes to have them scanned separately at the security checkpoint. Reid, a British citizen, tried to blow up a flight from France to Miami using plastic explosives concealed in his shoes on December 22, 2001. It's possible that the only reason his plan didn't work was that the fuse was damp from the sweat from his feet. He was sentenced to three life terms plus 110 years, with no option for parole.

Regardless of these incidents (or maybe in part because of them) airplane travel remains one of the safest modes of transportation one can take. According to the National Safety Council, the lifetime odds of dying in an air crash are 1 in 9,821 (for car travel, it's 1 in 114). The last time a U.S. airliner had a fatal crash was on February 12, 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed into a house as it was arriving in Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people aboard plus one person on the ground. That crash, too, brought changes; when the cause was determined to be pilot fatigue and lack of training, rest and experience requirements were increased for commercial pilots.

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