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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

FAA Faces Challenges in Implementing New Airline Safety Regulations

Woodrow Bellamy III

FAA is facing budgetary challenges and industry opposition to fully implementing provisions of the 2010 Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act, according to a report released by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General.

The Airline Safety act requires FAA to improve commercial airline safety standards by advancing voluntary safety programs, improving pilot rest requirements and providing better processes for carriers to manage safety risks. The act’s passage was prompted by a 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 that killed 50 people. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the crash was caused by the pilot’s incorrect response to critical safety systems, which caused an aerodynamic stall.

Among the provisions in the act is a requirement to develop an electronic pilot records database, but the agency faces challenges in retaining and standardizing historical records and transitioning from current requirements, according to the report.

In its report, the Inspector General found that FAA is “experiencing lengthy delays and considerable industry opposition” to issuing finalized rules that would lead to the above-mentioned safety improvements.

Furthermore, the report found that the agency has not provided “sufficient” assistance to smaller carriers in implementing the new safety standards. About 12 percent of small carriers have implemented the digital flight data recording programs required by the act, in comparison to more than 90 percent of larger carriers that have flight data recording programs to monitor aircraft performance.

The office considers smaller carriers to be those operating with less than 15 aircraft in their fleet.

“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,” the report said.

Additionally, the agency is behind schedule in issuing a rule requiring pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight training in order to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. That would be a significant increase over the current requirement of a minimum of 250 hours to obtain a commercial pilot license.

OIG issued a total of five recommendations in its report, proposing that FAA fully implement the provisions in the act that would establish a joint FAA/industry program for air carriers to report safety violations without risk of penalty, and a program for routine collection of digital flight data; and to focus on extending these programs to smaller air carriers. The office also recommended the heightened pilot licensing qualifications stated in the act and to implement the electronic pilot records database.

The office has submitted its recommendations to FAA, and said the agency has provided substantial responses. More

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