FAA And Industry Are Advancing The Airline Safety Act, But Challenges Remain To Achieve Its Full Measure, Says DOT Inspector General

On January 31, 2013, the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General issued a report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) progress and challenges in implementing the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 entitled FAA and Industry Are Advancing the Airline Safety Act, but Challenges Remain To Achieve Its Full MeasureReport No. AV-2013-037 (January 31, 2013).

The Inspector General found that while FAA has made “considerable and important progress” implementing many elements of the Act, the Agency and industry have not yet achieved the full measure of the Act’s intended safety enhancements. Although FAA has made progress advancing voluntary safety programs, improving pilot rest requirements, and establishing better processes for managing safety risks, the Inspector General was concerned that the 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 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, the Inspector General concluded, working with and assisting smaller carriers, the full safety benefits associated with these programs will not be realized.

The Inspector General’s report also noted that 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. Finally, the Inspector General stated that 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.

In the end, the Inspector General made five recommendations to the FAA:

  1. Fully implement the Act-required ASAP and FOQA plan that assists smaller carriers in developing these safety programs.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Report, p.16.  Although the FAA concurred or partially concurred in the Inspector General’s  five recommendations, the Inspector General is still requesting that the Agency submit additional information or reconsider its response for three of them.

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