FAA steps up pressure on carriers to adopt voluntary safety schemes

Washington DC
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FAA administrator Randy Babbitt has asked airlines to adopt voluntary safety measures, and to outline their commitment in a written response by 31 July following a Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 crash in February.

US airlines have been asked to implement a policy of asking pilot job applicants for voluntary disclosure of FAA records-such as notices of disapproval-as FAA works with the US Congress to update the Pilot Records Improvement Act of 1996 to possibly require airlines to seek such information.

Further, Babbitt is asking all airlines to participate in voluntary safety reporting schemes such as the Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) and the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). In addition to participating in FOQA and ASAP, Babbitt is requesting in a letter to carriers that airlines develop data analysis processes to "ensure effective use of this information".

The new administrator is also requesting that majors with regional partners seek ways to ensure that the feeder airline adopts and implements "the most effective practices for safety".

Babbit is also asking majors to have periodic meetings with regional partners that participate in FOQA and ASAP to review programme data and "to constantly emphasize their shared safety philosophy". While the FAA cannot require airlines to comply with voluntary measures, Babbitt has previously indicated, "I don't think October is too unreasonable to make public who chooses not to do those things."

Babbitt's safety efforts appear to have industry support, including that of the Regional Airline Association (RAA) and the Air Transport Association of America (ATA).

However, airlines are not the only target of Babbitt's safety initiative. He has also asked airline unions to publish a code of ethics and to establish professional standards and ethics committees to develop peer audit and review procedures.

Labour groups are also asked to support periodic safety risk management meetings between FAA and mainline and regional carriers "to promote the most effective practices, including periodic analysis of FOQA and ASAP data with an emphasis on identifying enhancements to the training program", Babbitt says in a letter to unions.

In addition to making requests of unions and airlines, Babbitt announced that FAA is undergoing an expedited review of flight and rest rules as fatigue was one area of focus during Congressional and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearings on the Colgan crash.

By 15 July, FAA will form an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC), which will have a 1 September deadline to draft recommendations to the FAA. The agency will use ARC recommendations to inform a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on flight and rest limits.

Also by 15 July, FAA inspectors will complete their review of airline procedures for identifying and tracking pilots who fail evaluations or demonstrate a repetitive need for additional training. Using results from inspections, FAA will develop a Safety Alerts For Operators (SAFO) report by 31 July to provide airlines guidance material about conducting a comprehensive training program review.

FAA inspectors will then conduct additional inspections to validate that the airline's training and qualification programs meet regulatory standards in accordance with FAA guidance materials.