The slow, deliberative Pilot Record Database process

Western NY Delegation
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Flight 3407 families frustrated with FAA

Pilot Record Database NPRM slow

Deliberations part of complex, extensive new requirement

There is little doubt that creating a data base to capture the full flying history of pilots intending to enter commercial aviation is laudable. The authors of  § 203 of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (“the PRD Act”), codified at 49 U.S.C. 44703(h)-(j) should be commended.

That simple goal, when translated to the realities of the required records, becomes MOST COMPLEX!!! Here are a few:

  • The PRD Act requires the Administrator to promulgate regulations to establish an electronic pilot records database containing records from the FAA and records maintained by air carriers and other operators that employ pilots.
  • The PRD Act also requires air carriers to access the database and evaluate any relevant records maintained therein pertaining to an individual before allowing that individual to begin service as a pilot.
  • The FAA is further required to issue regulations to protect and secure the personal privacy of any individual whose records are accessed in the new electronic database; to protect and secure the confidentiality of those records; and, to prevent further dissemination of those records once accessed by an air carrier.
  • The PRD Act also requires the implementing regulations to prescribe a timetable for the implementation of the PRD as well as a schedule for sunsetting the Pilot Records Improvement Act of 1996.”

The enormity and complexity of the PRD assignment may not be equaled in any past or even future Congressional mandate. For example,

  • Extending the scope of the regulations to capture Part 91 pilots who are likely to move to Part 121 or 135 positions
    • Imposing a significant paperwork burden to  workplaces which are not known for extensive administrative support
    • Heightening the consequences of training comments in a context which is meant to provide useful feedback
  • A major expansion of the records to be retained and to include them in an electronic format
  • PRIVACY—the size of the network, its accessibility by so many participants and the sensitivity of the data all require incredibly careful planning and IT requirements.
  • Drafting of the detailed regulations required to make the PRD functional, enforceable, and useful.

That said, it is not surprising that the project required a lot of time. Maybe 10 years was a bit much, but getting it right is incredibly difficult and important. An inadequate NPRM likely would immediately face an appeal to a US Court of Appeals. Even greater harm to the PRD goals would appear if some error is found in the rules or processes and a future pilot hire is made without the disclosure of a past problem. Thus, the 2020 NPRM is 61 pages long.

3407 Memorial

The tragedy of Flight 3407 impacted so many families and they are rightfully frustrated by the FAA’s deliberations. One of the rules of regulatory relations, a variation on Hanlon’s Razor, “never assume malice when the delay inherent in regulatory process is equally likely.”

For example, to find an IT expert to advise the FAA staff would involve the complex and time-consuming federal acquisition requirements. Privacy laws of 50 states had to be considered. The economic impact of PRD on Part 121, Part 135 and Part 91 operators had to be accurately calculated and then estimates of benefits attributable to the rules estimated. To process a rule is not just a simple matter of writing the rule and clearing it with the Administrator. A highly charged rule like this one will entail extensive reviews by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, the Office of Management and Budget plus multiple reiterations.

Three articles on the issuance of the PRD.


Russ Niles

July 26, 2020


Heat Turned Up For Pilot Database


Some congressional heavyweights are leaning on the Department of Transportation to finalize a Pilots Records Database they say would provide “one level of safety” for airline passengers. The database was included as part of the contentious 2010 FAA reauthorization bill and mandatory reporting requirements by those employing pilots has yet to be formalized as a rule. The FAA is now moving forward with it with an NPRM that was issued March 30 but there has been opposition to its reach and scope.

In a letter signed by members of the Western New York Congressional delegation, which includes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and former Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the delegation Congressmembers Brian Higgins (NY-26) Joe Morelle (NY-25), Tom Reed (NY-23), and Chris Jacobs (NY-27)said details of the crash of an Atlas Air Boeing 767 in February of 2019 cemented their resolve to get the rule in place. The politicians say the database would have prevented the first officer who was flying the plane from concealing his history of blown checkrides and other training failures while gaining 5,000 hours of right seat experience. “August 1st marks ten years since the passage of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 …the latest news about the deadly Atlas Air cargo flight crash shows we cannot wait one more day to implement the Pilot Records Database,” the letter reads.

NBAA has been among those pushing back on the master list of pilot credentials saying including small corporate flight departments in the collection of those required to submit pilot records is too much burden for them. It also says the NPRM had some contradictory language in it. Comments on the NPRM closed June 30.

Flight 3407: Pilot Record Database Closer to Reality

pilot records

Is your pilot safe to fly?

That’s a question families of Flight 3407 victims have been trying to get the answer to ever since they lost their loved ones in the crash in Clarence Center in 2009.

The cause: pilot error.

Now, a piece of legislation they’ve fought for that has been in limbo for the past decade is one step closer to implementation.

Monday was the final day for public comment on the pilot record database, which would detail a pilot’s test written and flight test results so any airline could see their record. 

At a Senate Commerce hearing in 2009, the president of the airline testified that if Colgan had access to the captain’s complete training record, they would not have hired him.

Family members say this has been too long in the making to ensure the most qualified people are in the cockpit.

“I just think about COVID and I think about how it’s so new and in just three or four months, they’re already testing. They have antibody tests. So where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just as an example, in three or four months, they’re moving ahead. And this has been 10 years. It’s more important than you think because you want the most qualified pilots in there, and this is a way to weed out the ones who aren’t good,” said Jen West, who lost her husband Ernie in the crash.

Theoretically, the FAA and DOT should have three months to finalize the rule, but as this legislation has been years in the making, family members say they will breathe a sigh of relief when they see the rule officially on the books.


content for PRD

Jul 24, 2020

Press Release

Members of the Western New York Congressional delegation are calling on federal agencies to finalize and implement the Pilot Records Database to prevent further unnecessary airplane tragedies. 

In a letter signed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressmembers Brian Higgins (NY-26) Joe Morelle (NY-25), Tom Reed (NY-23), and Chris Jacobs (NY-27) sent to the Secretary of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the bipartisan delegation writes, “It is the time for this long, arduous process to come to a close and to ensure One Level of Safety for the flying public. The Pilot Records Database must be finalized and implemented as soon as possible.”

This call comes after the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) recently released investigation into the February 2019 Atlas Air cargo flight revealed another preventable plane crash that led to lost lives. The Atlas Air cargo flight took place on February 23, 2019 and killed 3 people as it crashed into the ground in Trinity Bay, Texas. NTSB’s investigation found that the first officer, who was piloting at the time of the crash, deliberately concealed multiple training deficiencies and failed promotion in his previous job at the time of his hire by Atlas Air.

The delegation calls on the Administration to act with urgency, writing, “August 1st marks ten years since the passage of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010…the latest news about the deadly Atlas Air cargo flight crash shows we cannot wait one more day to implement the Pilot Records Database.”

The Pilot Records Database is an electronic catalog of pilot information easily accessible by airlines that contains employment history, training certifications, and national driver registry records. It was one of several safety measures required in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill of 2010.  But the implementation has been unnecessarily slow.  The Database was finally put into a beta test phase in December 2017.  In August of 2019 the Secretary of Transportation forwarded a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” on the Pilot Records Database to OMB for formal review.  The public comment period on the final rule closed on June 30, 2020.

On February 12, 2009 Colgan Air Flight 3407 tragically crashed to the ground in Clarence Center, New York, killing all passengers and crew members on board and one person on the ground.  The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) accident report concluded the incident was avoidable and attributable to pilot error.  The NTSB report recommended a “process for verifying, validating, auditing and amending pilot training records.”

Following the crash in Western New York, members of the delegation and Flight 3407 families fought for and won several flight safety improvements.  The law required enhanced pilot qualifications, increased training hours, new pilot flight and duty time rules to prevent pilot fatigue and full disclosure to consumers on airline websites of the flight operator, all of which were previously implemented.  The Pilot Record Database is the final recommendation that has yet to be implemented.

3407 Families


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