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DOT IG Says FAA Is Lagging In Airline Safety

Report Indicates Progress Is Being Made, But Challenges Remain In Implementing The Airline Safety Act

The Department of Transportation Inspector General says that the FAA has implemented many of the measures contained in the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act passed by the Congress in 2010, but the Agency and industry have not yet achieved the full measure of the Act’s intended safety enhancements. FAA has made considerable and important progress advancing voluntary safety programs, improving pilot rest requirements, and establishing better processes for managing safety risks.

The act was passed following the 2009 accident involving Colgan Air Flight 3407. The IG's office says that FAA has not provided sufficient management attention or assistance to smaller carriers for meeting new safety standards, or followed through on its commitment to help these carriers with safety program development and support. For example, only 12 percent of small carriers.

According to the report, "The FAA faces significant challenges to fully implement the Act, such as meeting timelines for rulemaking efforts while balancing competing interests of stakeholders involved with controversial safety measures.

"For example, FAA is experiencing lengthy delays and considerable industry opposition in issuing and finalizing rules that will enhance pilot qualification standards, revise crew training requirements, and establish mentoring and professionalism programs. Further, while FAA is on target with the initial development phase of a new, centralized electronic pilot records database, it remains uncertain when it will be implemented and what level of information it will contain. Three primary challenges exist with the new database: retaining and standardizing historical records, transitioning from current requirements, and incorporating driving records from the State level.

"(The) FAA has not provided the level of education, outreach, and guidance needed for air carriers to implement new safety programs, such as mentoring, leadership, and professional development committees. As a result, industry efforts to enhance aviation safety in accordance with the Act are limited. For example, only 12 percent of small carriers have flight data recording programs that monitor aircraft performance, compared to more than 90 percent of large carriers. Until FAA takes a more focused approach working with and assisting smaller carriers, the full safety benefits associated with these programs will not be realized."

In the report, the IG's office makes a series of recommendations to the FAA to address its concerns. Those include the full implementation of the Act, including required ASAP and FOQA plan that assists smaller carriers in developing these safety programs. The IG says that FAA should determine how many Part 121 pilots currently do not meet the heightened qualification standards required by the Act, and assess the data for the potential impact on FAA and air carrier operations; develop and communicate with key stakeholders the status of major milestones, including the proposed rule, to improve timeliness and accountability for implementing the new Pilot Records Database; and require inspectors to determine if air carriers have modified policies, in accordance with the Act, to retain pilot records for the new, centralized electronic pilot records database.

Finally, the IG says that in developing the Pilot Records Database, require training records for all unsatisfactory pilot evaluation events to include written comments from the examiner to aid in identifying specific performance deficiencies.

FMI: Read the Report

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