It was reported last month that federal regulators have been struggling to overcome substantial industry opposition and implement a sweeping aviation safety law enacted after the last fatal U.S. airline crash which happened nearly four years ago. The Federal Aviation Administration is having a hard time putting in place rules required by the law to increase the amount of experience necessary to be an airline pilot, provide more realistic pilot training, and create a program where experienced captains mentor less experienced first officers. This is according to the report issued by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General.
The FAA is also running into problems creating a new, centralized electronic database that airlines can check prior to hiring pilots, according to the report. The database is supposed to include pilots’ performance on past tests of flying skills. In each case, the report indicates that the FAA has run into significant opposition from the airline industry. The report reads “To effectively implement these initiatives in a timely manner, (the) FAA must balance industry concerns with a sustained commitment to oversight.”
As you may recall, Congress passed the law about 18 months after the February 12, 2009, crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed all 49 people aboard and a man on the ground. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the accident found weaknesses in pilot training, tiring work schedules, lengthy commutes and relatively low experience levels for pilots at some regional carriers. The crash was due to an incorrect response by the flight’s captain to two key safety systems, causing an aerodynamic stall. That caused the plane to crash into a house below, the NTSB investigation concluded.
The family members of the victims lobbied for passage of the safety law. Many are disappointed in the delays in carrying out the intent of the law. Driven by the accident and the new safety law, the FAA substantially revised its rules governing pilot work schedules to better ensure pilots are rested when they fly. It was the first modification of the rules since 1985 and “a significant achievement” for the FAA, the report said.
Hopefully, the FAA will meet the deadlines later this year for issuing new regulations on pilot training and qualifications. Responding to the report, the FAA said in a statement that more than 90% of air carriers now use voluntary programs in which pilots and others report safety problems with the understanding that there will be no reprisals for their conduct or computer-assisted programs that identify and report safety trends. The FAA believes this “has led to significant training, operational and maintenance program improvements.” The agency also noted that it has “delivered seven reports to Congress, initiated five rulemaking projects and continued rulemaking efforts for another four final rules” as a result of the new safety law.
The Inspector General’s report, however, details how the FAA has missed deadlines and run into complications trying to issue regulations necessary to implement key portions of the law. For example, the FAA is behind schedule on rules to substantially increase the experience required to become an airline pilot from the current 250 flight hours to 1,500 flight hours. The agency currently estimates it will issue the rules in August, a year after the deadline set in the law. Airlines oppose the increase, claiming that a pilot’s quality and type of flying should be weighed more heavily than the number of flight hours.
The FAA has proposed a compromise that would allow military pilots with 750 hours of flight experience or pilots with 1,000 hours and a four-year aviation degree to qualify to be hired as an airline pilot, but airlines remain opposed. If the FAA doesn’t act by the August deadline, the increase to 1,500 hours will take effect without the exceptions offered in the FAA’s compromise proposals. But the FAA and its inspectors haven’t taken steps to ensure that regional airlines, which will be most affected, will be able to meet the new requirements, according to the report. It was reported by Associated Press that at two regional carriers visited by the Inspector General’s office, 75% of the first officers didn’t have an air transport certificate – the highest level pilot’s license issued by the FAA – which will be required for all airline pilots by the August deadline.
Sources: Associated Press and Claims Journal
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