FAA’s implementation of the Pilot Record Database may need some outside help

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Below is a very disappointing report of the US Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General about the FAA’s efforts to comply with the Pilot Records Improvement Act of 1996 (PRIA) and the 2010 Airline Safety and Extension Act. At the end of its audit the OIG found that

“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.”

The catalyst for the two statutes was the following very compelling statement:

“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.”

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For an aviation safety team which has demonstrated its reliance on data particularly in the context of proactive solutions, the implementation of a Pilot Record Database would be placed high on its priorities.

Contrary to that reasonable expectation, the FAA is quoted as stating:

“Agency officials stated that this is in part because the Act did not contain deadlines for its development or implementation…As a result, FAA opted to allocate resources to other Act requirements that had deadlines, such as raising standards in pilot training and performance, and improving rest requirements.”

That’s either a cry for more resources or an implicit statement that the bureaucratic blockages (state privacy or employment protection laws, legal restrictions on obtaining/compelling records from employers, local laws limiting access to criminal [in particular drug, alcohol] records and the myriad statutes protecting mental health documents) will consume major resources/time to overcome.

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There are many critics in Washington, many occupying a Hill of some note, who believe that the FAA staff should not be expanded. The last few Administrators would not concur with that opinion in private and maybe even in public.

The critics of the numbers of employees frequently are also advocates of public/ private partnerships to address knotty problems like the creation of a workable PRD in the NEAR FUTURE. Perhaps it would be best, on a bipartisan basis, for an outside contractor to develop the information technology which is needed to pull all of these records on a real time basis and which protects all of that personal data, in particular after the OPM hackings.

The PRD appears to be a very important safety tool and the FAA appears not to have the resources (be the best resource) to complete this important task.

 

OIG REPORT: FAA Delays in Establishing a Pilot Records Database Limit Air Carriers’ Access to Background Information

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