Rep. Larsen’s Frustration with Slow Rule Progress Understandable: Review of Process may add to Understanding FAA’s Burden.

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ARTICLE: WA Lawmaker Urges Foxx To Move Quickly On Commercial Pilot Qualifications

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As was noted recently, welcome to Washington, Secretary Foxx. The above link indicates that Representative Rick Larsen has written to the DOT’s new boss soon after the former mayor was sworn in. The Ranking Member of the House Aviation Committee reminded his fellow party member that his predecessor, Secretary LaHood, was a “champion of a number of safety-related initiatives over the past four years. I hope that you will continue in that spirit, and that you will work towards the issuance of the final rule on airline pilot qualifications and training as swiftly as possible.” The Congressman from Washington State wants action on crew member qualification rules.

Congress passed HR 8900, which, among other legislative provisions, mandated some 13 new safety actions by the FAA. Among the regulatory actions mandated therein were at least two addressed to pilot qualifications:

Flight Crewmember Screening and Qualifications:

The FAA shall develop and implement means and methods for ensuring that flight crewmembers have proper qualifications and experience. The measure requires that prospective flight crewmembers undergo comprehensive pre-employment screening, including the assessment of skills, aptitudes, airmanship, and suitability of each applicant for a position as a flight crewmember in terms of functioning effectively in the air carrier’s operational environment.

Airline Transport Pilot Certification:

The FAA shall modify the requirements for the issuance of an airline transport pilot certificate to include sufficient hours (at least 1,500), received flight training, academic training or operational experience that will prepare a pilot function effectively in multiple flying environments.

These sections of the bill must be put in some order within all of the Aviation Safety Division’s regulatory and other work products agenda. The FAA works with the Office of the Secretary to set priorities among these myriad of regulatory projects. The DoT periodically publishes the final approved ranking of the order of the regulatory projects. That Report on DOT Significant Rulemakings includes 21 ranked rulemakings for the FAA (no other modal administration has more than 14 on its list).

Rep. Larsen should know that “Qualification, Service, and Use of Crewmembers and Aircraft Dispatchers” and “Pilot Certification and Qualification Requirements (formerly First Officer Qualification Requirements) (HR 5900)” are #1 and #8 on that stone tablet. Those rankings and the schedules set for completion were approved by Secretary LaHood and presumably adopted by Secretary Foxx.

The Pilot Certification and Qualification Requirements for Air Carrier Operations rulemaking drew 516 comments from the public. The Administrative Procedures Act requires that the FAA must carefully review each such submission. The content included in the docket reflected thoughtful analyses of the rules, academic and /or practical experience requirements, time flying specific aircraft types, examinations, QA/QC of the hiring and qualifications process, carrier reports documenting their training/pilot qualifications, related rulemakings (some mandated by HR 8900), secondary impacts on other aviation operations caused by the Congressional raising of minimum hiring requirements, the role of the Second in Command and a long list of other relevant, complex, interrelated issues. Other statutes compel that the FAA make a very detailed assessment of the economic impact as well as a cost/benefit analysis of the proposed set of rules.

The NPRM is over 30,000 words long. The draft rules, the detailed amendments to all of the existing regulations, which must capture the precise requirements to be imposed on airlines, flight schools and others totaled almost 5,500 words. The FAA had to read the 516 comments submitted and determine whether the points raised about the rules and justification merit mentioning, recalculation of the numbers cited in the NPRM, reconsideration of the rational reviewed in the preamble and perhaps even rewriting of the proposed amendments. To provide only circumspect consideration of these comments is not only inappropriate from a process standpoint, but may constitute reversible error. Even though HR 8900 mandated new standards, the NPRM process must be strictly adhered to.

The first regulatory project was completed by the FAA within 8 days of its target date and appears to be somewhere between the Secretary’s staff and OMB. The Report indicates that it is expected that this part of the rule should be issued on October 21st this year.

The second part of the HR 8900 agenda is on its third scheduling iteration. The dates have slipped a little with less than 90 days due to “additional coordination necessary” (a euphemism that rivals some of the language used by professional sports team injuries). The review began at OMB on April 30, but is not due to be completed for another three weeks. It should be published on July 31st.

Oddly enough, all of this status information is publically available, as mandated by several Congressional statutes and implemented by the Executive Branch. The Congressman might also send a letter to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, since her offices are the last step before issuance of a final rule.

The frustration inherent in Rep. Larsen’s letter is understandable. The pursuit of safety is vitally important and every FAA employee involved is dedicated to implementing HR 8900’s mandate as soon as practicable. Unless Congress reverses the Administrative Procedure act and/or the Paperwork Reduction Act, the steps taken by the FAA cannot be ignored. Additionally, the Congress has instructed that certain other projects must be completed by dates certain. At least five of the 21 tasks listed on the Report on DoT Significant Rulemakings carry some legislative imprimatur.

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