The General Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report today, March 20, 2012, entitled FAA Has An Opportunity to Enhance Safety and Improve Oversight of Initial Pilot Training. Over the past few years, regional airlines have experienced six fatal commercial airline accidents, accounting for all of the fatal commercial airline accidents. In those accidents, pilot performance has been cited as a potential contributory factor in four of these accidents, including the Colgan Air Flight 3407 accident which killed 50 people when it crashed in a snowstorm outside of Buffalo, New York, in February, 2009.
The GAO, in its report, concludes that FAA’s pilot training requirements for certification of commercial pilots are not aligned with airline operations or emphasize skills that airlines consider important for greater aviation safety. According to many in the aviation/airline industry the current training regulations for commercial pilots should be revised to incorporate additional training requirements that would improve the performance capabilities of the first officer applicants. This lack of specific training requirements results in a wide range of initial training experiences, not all of which are well suited for the commercial airline industry. The GAO believes that FAA has an opportunity to ensure that the knowledge and skills it requires of commercial pilots is still relevant.
GAO recommends that the FAA improve its oversight of pilot certification by developing a comprehensive system that may include modifying or improving existing data systems to: (1) measure its performance in meeting the agency’s annual inspection requirements for pilot schools and pilot examiners and (2) better understand the scope of discretionary inspections for flight instructors.