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FAA Delays Establishing A Pilot Records Database

August 20, 2015 - The U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General has released a report that indicated the FAA has not shown progress in implementing a 2010 congressional mandate to create a pilot data base in which airlines would be able to access when hiring a prospective pilot for employment.

Ensuring air carriers have all available information on a pilot’s training and performance remains a critical safety area for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The 2010 Airline Safety and Extension Act mandated that FAA create a pilot records database to ensure pilot records are retained for the life of the pilot and that air carriers review those records when making hiring decisions.


Between 1987 and 1994, the U.S. airline industry suffered seven major accidents that were attributed in part to errors made by pilots who had been hired without background safety checks. In all cases, the hiring airlines lacked access to, or failed to obtain, the pilots’ flight qualifications and other safety records from FAA and/or previous employers before completing the hiring process. As a result, Congress enacted PRIA, which requires carriers to request qualifying information from FAA and previous employers when hiring pilots.

In 2005, NTSB recommended that FAA also require air carriers to obtain any notices of disapproval for pilots before making a hiring decision which was not required under PRIA. Notices of disapproval are provided to pilots when they fail to satisfactorily complete a flight test (e.g., instrument rating, flight instructor, or airline transport pilot certificate). In response, the Agency stated that rulemaking would be necessary to require air carriers to obtain the records. Instead, the FAA opted to revise guidance to inform carriers of the availability of additional pilot records.

During the investigation of the 2009 Colgan Air accident in New York, NTSB found that the captain of the flight failed to disclose failed proficiency checks that occurred prior to his employment with the airline. The carrier had requested pilot records in accordance with PRIA , but remained unaware of the additional problems the pilot experienced because the carrier had not specifically requested records on failed evaluations.



Following the 2009 Colgan Air crash, FAA requested that air carriers implement policies for asking pilot applicants to voluntarily disclose their records, including any unsatisfactory flight tests. Additionally, through the 2010 Airline Safety and Extension Act, Congress mandated that the FAA develop and implement a PRD consisting of pertinent information from FAA, air carriers, and other records (including the National Driver Register). The records are to be maintained in the database for the life of a pilot to ensure comprehensive pilot records are available to air carriers during the hiring process.

The FAA’s progress in developing and implementing the pilot records database remains limited, and its completion remains uncertain. The Agency does not expect to issue a related rulemaking until 2017, and the database will likely not be fully implemented until more than a decade after Congress mandated its creation in 2010. Moreover, the FAA has yet to make key decisions regarding how to incorporate historical records or how air carriers will transition to and access the database. In the meantime, air carriers, in large part, do not have all relevant pilot records available to review when evaluating pilot applicants. 

Specifically, the FAA has not determined whether air carriers have followed through on their voluntary commitments to request additional records from FAA when hiring new pilots. As a result, air carriers are not able to fully evaluate prior performance when deciding whether to hire a pilot. The Office of Inspector General made three recommendations to the FAA to better manage its implementation of the pilot records database and ensure that air carriers have all available information on a pilot’s training performance. The FAA concurred with all three recommendations. Based on FAA’s response, the Office of Inspector General consider two recommendations open but resolved, and are requesting additional information for one recommendation. 

Office of Inspector General Recommendations - OIG previously recommended, the FAA should complete inspections to ensure pilot records are being retained for inclusion in the PRD. Also, to better manage its implementation of the PRD and ensure that air carriers have all available information on a pilot’s training performance, we recommend that the FAA: 

1. Develop a clearly defined and expedited schedule for the development and implementation of a PRD, including cost estimates and project timelines.

2. As part of the standard PRIA response letter, incorporate a written notification to air carriers that additional records may be available through FOIA and Privacy Act requests.

3. Establish the FAA -records portion of the database and develop a single process for air carriers to request and obtain records currently available through PRIA, notices of disapproval, and summaries of enforcement actions in accordance with the Act.
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