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Industry opposition causes delay in FAA airline, pilot safety guidance

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Airline industry opposition is delaying Federal Aviation Administration from issuing guidance and training for safety measures and pilot hiring practices,  say auditors at the Transportation Department's inspector general, with some of the resultant risks falling more heavily on smaller carriers.

In a Jan. 31 report (.pdf), auditors say FAA is facing difficulties with its safety programs including issuing and finalizing rules on pilot qualification standards and crew training requirements. The agency is "more than 15 months overdue in issuing a final rule revision pilot training requirements" and most of the "delay is due to significant industry opposition."

Auditors also express concern about the quality of data in an upcoming electronic pilot records database. They specifically worry about the database's ability to incorporate state driving records, standardizing historical records and transitioning information collection from current requirements.

The report says these issues may impact smaller carriers more significantly because FAA "has not provided sufficient management attention or assistance to smaller carriers" to meet new safety standards as they are developed.

One standard is the use of flight data recording programs to monitor aircraft performance, and the report says only 12 percent of small carriers have a program in place while 90 percent of larger carriers have one. It uses the FAA definition of a small carrier as one with 15 or fewer aircraft.

This is due in part to problems targeting assistance to small carriers and problems determining if its programs would be scalable to carriers of all sizes, say auditors.

The report recommends the FAA implement plans that assist smaller carriers in developing safety programs, determine how many current pilots don't meet heightened qualification standards, and craft milestones and deadlines with industry input for finishing its new pilot standards and pilot database.

The agency agrees with the recommendations and the IG says it has already begun to address some of the concerns around the pilot database and timelines for new rules.

For more:
- download the report, AV-2013-037 (.pdf)

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