Progress & Challenges For The FAA In Responding To The Airline Safety Act


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Progress & Challenges For The FAA In Responding To The Airline Safety Act

By Eddy Metcalf

March 21, 2012 - On Tuesday the Inspector General testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security regarding the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) commercial airline safety oversight.   

Specifically, the Inspector General focused on FAA’s implementation of the 2010 Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act, emphasizing:  (1) FAA’s progress in responding to provisions of the Act; (2) the challenges FAA faces in implementing certain provisions; and (3) concerns related to achieving the full measure of safety enhancements intended by the Act. 

The Inspector General noted that FAA has made important progress related to key Act requirements, such as strengthening pilot rest requirements and advancing programs for managing safety risks.

However, FAA has yet to implement Act provisions related to pilot training, professional development, and qualifications, due in large part to industry concerns.  The Agency also faces challenges in establishing a pilot records database to enhance carriers' screening process for pilot applicants.   

In addition, FAA needs to assist smaller carriers in developing and managing the safety programs called for in the Act to fully realize the benefits of increased safety reporting and trend analyses. 

The 2010 Act included 16 provisions to improve airline safety and pilot training with milestones spread over a 3-year period. The Act called for advanced standards for pilots, including required rulemaking activities for training programs, crewmember screening and qualifications, and new fatigue regulations to improve passenger safety.  

These rulemaking activities are complex, and some have encountered significant air carrier opposition. In addition to notice and comment periods required by law, the FAA must conduct detailed analyses of each rule’s likely effects and coordinate with stakeholders. The Act also included several important initiatives that FAA did not complete during its Call to Action on Airline Safety. 

Unlike the old rules which included different rest requirements for domestic, international, and unscheduled flights the new regulations establish one set of rules that are based on scientific factors, such as the time of day pilots begin their first flight, the number of scheduled flight segments, and the number of time zones crossed.  
Pilots are also now required to affirmatively state that they are fit to fly and are prohibited from flying during a scheduled duty period when they report fatigue. Other key changes in the new flight and duty time regulations include a 10-hour minimum rest period prior to duty, a 2-hour increase over the previous rule, and 30 consecutive hours free from duty per week an increase of 25 percent over the previous regulation requirements.

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