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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Safety and the Pilot Records Improvement Act (PRIA)

By Keith Cianfrani

The information found in a pilot’s logbook and FAA records may not be an accurate reflection their proficiency and work history. Does PRIA see through the smoke and mirrors? Photo by Ernie Stephens
In August 2010, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Extension Act changed the way the Pilot Records Improvement Act (PRIA) works and how the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) handles an airman’s records. PRIA requires “that a hiring air carrier under 14 CFR parts 121 and 135, or a hiring air operator under 14 CFR part 125, request, receive, and evaluate certain information concerning a pilot/applicant’s training, experience, qualification, and safety background, before allowing that individual to begin service as a pilot with their company.”

PRIA also requires “a hiring air carrier under 14 CFR parts 121 and 135, or a hiring air operator under 14 CFR part 125, request, receive and evaluate certain information concerning a pilot/applicant’s training experience, qualification and safety background before allowing that individual to begin service as a pilot with their company.”

Actions that are required to be reported are defined by the FAA as “summaries of FAA legal enforcement actions” resulting in a finding by the administrator of a violation that was not subsequently overturned. (“Resulting in a finding” means the case has been fully adjudicated and closed.) In other words, only fully adjudicated and closed enforcement cases are required to be, and in fact are, reported by PRIA for the five-year period preceding the date on the application.

PRIA does not provide information concerning accidents or incidents in which the pilot may have been involved, or enforcement cases that are still open, pending, under appeal, or reopened when reporting on a pilot’s performance record.

The FAA’s Office of Chief Council has determined that doing so could be unfair to the pilot because the reports may or may not involve pilot error. Pilots identified in an accident or incident reports do not receive the same due process protections enjoyed by legal enforcement actions. Open cases that have not been fully reviewed by the FAA or NTSB, or possibly by a U.S. Court of Appeals, could eventually be dropped or dismissed by the court.

What does all of this mean and how does it affect aviation safety? Well, let’s look at what information a potential pilot employee actually submits to an employer and how accurate it really is.

We will start with medical issues. Is the pilot’s medical certificate valid? Is it current and are there any medical conditions that have subsequently emerged that would affect safety after the certificate was issued? Many employers do not even look at this when hiring a pilot.

Next is the flight hour requirement issue. Do employers actually look at a pilot’s log book closely and ask the proper questions to challenge any entries, such as the amount of hours listed, compared to the period of time a pilot has been flying? This also involves any entries on aircraft qualification. Just because a pilot has five hours in an aircraft does not mean he is qualified in it.

Then there is drug testing. Do all employers actually have all their applicants drug screened prior to employment, and do they do random drug screening after a pilot is hired?

Finally, this last issue is the most recent of the group and it is ever growing. I’m talking about pilots forming their own limited liability corporation (LLC), and operating under this premise as a sub-contractor, not an employee. When it’s time to move on, especially if they are let go for safety issues, they put the LLC and a point of contact on their resume, instead of the employer they were contracted by. The PRIA papers then come to the address listed for the LLC, where the individual pilot himself then completes the documentation and returns it to the potential employer with all positive comments.

Operators must do their homework and conduct background checks on applicants very thoroughly. It seems that some companies do not want to conduct thorough background checks on pilots because they are too busy, they desperately need pilots, or they don’t want to use resources for this.

I recently conducted a safety audit on a flight training program that employs almost 40 instructor pilots. It did not take me long to realize that these instructors were all sub-contractors with many operating under LLC status. I reviewed the hiring procedure for these pilots and noticed that a resume review and phone interview was all that was conducted. There were no background checks at all.

The aviation industry must construct a program to track pilot records in addition to PRIA. Some of the industry solutions may be that operators conduct their own research and background checks, question everything that is listed on a resume. They must call other operators to verify information. These operators must engage in a unified effort with other operators, and they must be willing to terminate pilots that are not truthful.

Flight time issues can be easily resolved by reviewing both the applicant’s resume and original logbook. Pilots know if they falsify their resume, the FAA has no recourse. But if they do the same with their logbook, they will face consequences.

An operator hiring subcontractor – also called “1099” pilots, after the official income reporting form used for tax purposes – needs to be aware that these pilots still fall under their flying certificate, and must be treated as an employee for safety and training purposes. The operator is still responsible for their actions while performing flying or maintenance duties.

There are actions we can all take to promote safety and accountability with pilot records throughout the industry. First, a fact sheet, possibly prepared by industry operators, could address these issues and promote operator involvement. Next, random drug testing of airmen can be implemented. Third, an applicant can be compelled to supply a prospective employer with all hire and random drug screening results from prior application processes and employment. Finally, the merits of qualifying pilots as employees or 1099 sub-contractors can more closely scrutinized.

Accuracy with pilot recording reporting is essential to ensure that operators hire pilots who have the qualifications, experience and correct attitude to fly safely. Potential employers must look at the “whole person concept” when hiring a pilot. There is no room in this industry for anything less. As always, Take Action to Fly Safe!

For more information on PRIA refer to FAA document AFS-620 PRIA.

 

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