U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Holds Hearing on FAA’s Role in the Oversight of Air Carriers

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Wednesday, June 10, 2009, that small regional airlines are held to the same safety standards as the major carriers. Babbitt says he and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood are ensuring that the FAA is taking steps to ensure that that is the practice as well as the law. However, FAA Inspector General Calvin Scovell  says that is not currently the case.

Subcommittee Chair Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) opened the hearing with the statement that he was concerned that there is a double standard in aviation instead of  “one level of safety for both regional and major carriers.” This issue has come to the forefront since the crash of Colgan Air flight in Buffalo, raising issues of pilot training, proficiency and pay at regional airlines.  The investigation into that crash has revealed that the pilot flew cross country as a passenger on a flight the night before and lacked experience in the deicing procedures for the type of aircraft that crashed.

FAA Administrator Babbitt said that the same safety laws and regulations apply across the board to all airlines, regardless of whether they are regional or national in scope.  That being said, Administrator Babbitt stated that there is much to be done to improve safety and that he and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood are committed to focusing on inspection of aircraft and safety.

FAA Inspector General Calvin Scovell, however, stated that although the laws and regulations may be the same, in practice there are two standards.  He stated that he was particularly concerned about the difference between pilots’ training and level of flight experience in the two types of airlines.  The major airlines did not escape the hearing unscathed.  Scovell also testified that  there have been many lapses in oversight of the major airlines’ technical programs, similar to the problems that came to light last summer concerning Southwest Airlines. In particular, he was concerned that 7 major airlines missed “Air Transportation Oversight Systems” inspections, some had been allowed to lapse  “well beyond the 5-year inspection cycle.

NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker also had some choices remarks for the FAA.  He informed the panel that the FAA has failed to heed recommendations suggested by the NTSB that would produce greater safety.  When asked how many recommended changes were outstanding, Chairman Rosenker stated that there about 450 recommendations still outstanding with some 10 – 15 years old.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) called this an “outrage” and an indictment of the FAA, “it is not about anyone personally, it is the institution, it is the way they think, and it is very disturbing to me.”

In the end, Administrator Babbitt promised to consider the NTSB recommendations, and although the FAA will not adopt them all, he would make the FAA “more transparent” about the process.

Click on “continue reading” to see list of written statements and link to the archived webcast of the hearing.

Written Remarks of the Witnesses and Chairmen

Majority Statements

  • John D. Rockefeller, IV, (D-W.V.) Chairman Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation;
  • Byron L. Dorgan, (D-N.D.) Chairman, Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security.

Witnesses’ Written Remarks:

Archived Webcast of Hearing.

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