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FAA to target pilot records and fatigue rules

The FAA will ask all airlines to begin reviewing pilot records held by the agency as it revises a November 2007 advisory circular in the aftermath of the fatal Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 crash.

The current advisory circular suggests that carriers ask a job applicant to sign a consent form to grant airlines access to the prospective hire's entire airman certification file, including notices of disapproval for flight checks for certificates and ratings. But FAA administrator Randy Babbitt says the agency wants to ensure that carriers attempt to review all records of a job candidate and the administration "may well ask Congress to make that part of" the Pilot Records Improvement Act (PRIA) of 1996.

PRIA currently does not mandate airlines to review FAA records of job applicants. It only requires any company hiring a pilot for air transportation to request and receive records from employers from the past five years.

Asking for records access is among the voluntary measures Babbitt is pushing airlines to take as soon as possible while the NTSB completes its final report on the Colgan Q400 crash, which prompted Babbitt and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to host a meeting with airlines, industry groups and labour today in Washington.

Waiting for the NTSB to issue its report will delay changes too long, Babbitt told reporters this afternoon after the meeting concluded. But he acknowledges that there will be privacy and discrimination issues to address if PRIA were to be changed to include access to FAA records.

Babbitt also revealed the FAA will ask all airlines to participate in voluntary safety reporting schemes such as the Flight Operations Quality Assurance Programmes (FOQA) and the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). The ASAP is an agreement between FAA, a specific employee group and airline management that allows for the voluntary reporting of safety issues or concerns in exchange for the risk of penalties related to those incidents generally being eliminated.

"I don't think October is too unreasonable to make public who chooses not to do those things," Babbitt says.

Babbitt's remarks about ASAP and FOQA come as the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has pressed Congress for legislation to provide protection against the misuse of information collected under those schemes. However, the union does have the goal of having 100% of its member carriers operating with ASAP.

The FAA will also look into new pilot fatigue rules in "coming months" based on scientific research unavailable when arbitrary rules were previously created, Babbitt says.

Fatigue rules should consider factors such as circadian rhythms and that there are different types of workdays for pilots, including days filled with a singular long-haul flight versus multiple short-haul operations, he adds.

In the meantime, the FAA will send four teams to ideally visit every regional and major airline that was unable to attend today's meeting on training, cockpit discipline and other fight safety issues raised during the NTSB hearing on the Colgan crash last month. The meetings will be designed for information gathering and to explain FAA action, Babbitt says.

As pilot training was among the targets of US Congressional hearings on regional airline safety last week as well as one subject of the NTSB investigation into the crash, Babbitt also encourages major airlines to adopt some type of pilot mentoring program for their regional partners and to consider ways to give regional partners access to their training programs as newer regional carriers are less likely to afford multiple, costly simulators.

He also encouraged regional airlines to review starting pilot salaries because $24,000 a year is not going to attract the "best and brightest".

On 12 February a Colgan turboprop stalled and went out of control on approach to Buffalo, New York. The aircraft crashed into a house about 9km (5nm) from the airport, killing all 49 on board and one person on the ground.

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