Sagacious Senate bill on Global Pilot Competence

capito, moran, cantwell, klobuchar
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Senators introduce bill to move International Pilot Training

More Money to assist ICAO efforts

Clearly Senators are looking at the Records

CONGRATULATIONS!!! At least four Senators read past the headlines of the horrific Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Their press releases further demonstrate that they listened to the witnesses.  S. 3959, the Foreign Civil Aviation Authority Assistance and Capacity-Building Act of 2020 seeks to remedy a major underlying fault and perhaps the most significant contributor to these crashes.[1]

The NTSB has yet to issue probable causes on either accident, but has issued 7 Safety Recommendations to FAA related to Ongoing Lion Air, Ethiopian Airlines Crash Investigations. The Boeing 737 MAX Flight Control System Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) also has released its Observations, Findings, and Recommendations. Both recognize that the pilots were not able to respond correctly.[2] S.3959 builds on the hypothesis that pilot training be enhanced globally and doubles the funding for the FAA’s international outreach efforts.

There are a number of articles which have found fault with task-based training as opposed to performance-based education. This is a proposition which predates the MCAS problem and which is applicable to US pilots, too. Thus, it would be wise that the FAA Aviation Safety Ambassadors speak with a bit of humility when talking to their CAA peers.

task based, competence based

Perhaps not an explicit goal of the Capito-Cantwell-Moran-Klobuchar proposal, but a beneficiary of asses FAA resources for rebuilding its relationships with other Civil Aviation Authorities. The speed with which so many CAAs[3] grounded the B-737 Max 8 aircraft was a demonstration of some residual animus. To some degree the closing of overseas FAA offices diminished years of goodwill, but it is also possible that years of International Aviation Safety Assessments, in which FAA staff “evaluated” the competence of their peer organization, left the “audited” authority resenting the critiques of them.



Legislation would increase funding for FAA international technical assistance programs, enable U.S. to work with ICAO to raise international standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced legislation this week to authorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work with other countries to strengthen pilot training standards and enable the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to further enhance worldwide aviation safety and training standards.

ICAO sealThe Foreign Civil Aviation Authority Assistance and Capacity-Building Act of 2020 authorizes $10 million a year for Fiscal Years 2021-2026 for the FAA to provide technical assistance to civil aviation authorities around the world to improve pilot training in critical areas like automation and human-machine interface. This authorization would more than double the funding available to the FAA to provide these capacity-building programs. It also authorizes up to $2 million a year for Fiscal Years 2021-2026 to help establish a working group at ICAO – a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Montreal, Canada, that sets international civil aviation requirements and standards – on raising international pilot training standards.

“Since the tragic accidents of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Congress has held—and continues to hold—hearings examining what occurred and how we can make sure such incidents do not happen again. One of the concerns in the wake of these recent crashes has been the usage of automation in the cockpit and pilot training on those systems. Our legislation builds upon the work the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been doing with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the in-country technical assistance the FAA provides to other countries to improve aviation safety,” Senator Capito said.

pilots“This legislation will enable the FAA to help strengthen pilot training in other countries.” Ranking Member Cantwell said. “This new work on pilot training standards at the International Civil Aviation Organization will raise the safety bar across the globe.”

“Multiple reports regarding the 737 MAX accidents highlighted concerns about the human-machine interface in the cockpit,” said Senator Moran“This bipartisan legislation would provide resources to help establish the International Civil Aviation Organization’s working group created to implement recommendations on human-machine interface and advance our aviation safety. In addition, this legislation would allow for increased engagement by the FAA to promote collaboration and data sharing on an international level. We must continue to advance aviation safety in a holistic manner and ensure tragic accidents like the 737 MAX in Ethiopia and Indonesia do not happen again. I look forward to our continued work on this important issue and encourage my colleagues to support this legislation to improve aviation safety.”

“Following the tragic airplane crashes of the Boeing 737 Max in Indonesia and Ethiopia and the subsequent investigations, we must ensure that international pilot training requirements meet the highest standards to help prevent similar tragedies in the future,” Senator Klobuchar said. “The Foreign Civil Aviation Authority Assistance and Capacity-Building Act will help improve international pilot training and enhance the safety of foreign air transportation systems by helping the U.S. work with our international partners to develop important safety standards for the aviation workforce and industry.”

pilot training

Investing in pilot training is essential for safety as the aviation industry continues to grow. According to projections, once the industry recovers from the COVID-19 crisis, world passenger and aircraft traffic may grow by more than 4 percent over the next few decades, resulting in a need for roughly 550,000 new pilots over that time frame.

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Federal legislators are the frequent targets for castigation. The most common refrain of these critiques is that the Members do not have a good grasp of the highly technical issues which confront Congress. Few national policy questions have been as complex as the Max 8 mess—technology, oversight, poor safety culture, global markets and trade competition all are within the scope of the debate.

Another failure alleged is the lack of bipartisan solutions. Four Members, two from each side of the aisle and all powerful legislators are sponsoring this bill.  S. 3959 disproves that thesis. 

Senators Capito, Cantwell, Moran, and Klobuchar are to be commended for having paid attention and to have signed onto a bill which is intended to practically address an important global safety issue.  S. 3959, the Foreign Civil Aviation Authority Assistance and Capacity-Building Act of 2020, should pass for good reasons.

US Senate



[1] Boeing’s faulty assumptions for the design of the B-737 Max’s MCAS may well be determined the proximate cause. The computer design was set for pilots of above average sills. The available records appear to support that the cockpit performance of both crews were below Boeing’s expectations.

[2] Honesty requires an acknowledge that the pilot-machine interface problem is not just a foreign issue: FAA Proposes NPRM On Pilot Professionalism Based On 2010 ARC Reports

[3] Many of which had not issued any Type Certificates and thus had no real technical competence to assess the underlying airworthiness.


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2 Comments on "Sagacious Senate bill on Global Pilot Competence"

  1. Really interesting development. Not sure I remember Congress giving money so specifically before. Is all or part of the money available for ICAO itself to use?

    • Sandy Murdock | June 24, 2020 at 7:45 pm | Reply

      James, good question, but though the “bill” has been heavily publicized, they have not shared the actual text,yet.

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