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Fri, Feb 05, 2010

Babbitt Updates Congress On 'Call To Action'

Testifies Before The House Committee On Transportation Aviation Subcommittee

Just a week after releasing the FAA's "Call to Action" document, and on the heels of some 25 recommendations from the NTSB in their final report on Colgan Air Flight 3407, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was on Capitol Hill Thursday providing testimony about airline safety and pilot training.

Babbitt had been asked to offer an update on the sweeping document which became public at the end of January. "As I noted when I appeared before you in September," Babbit said, "history has shown that we are able to implement safety improvements far more quickly and effectively when the FAA, industry, and labor work together on agreed upon solutions. The fastest way to implement a solution is for it to be done voluntarily, and that is what the Call to Action was intended to facilitate. On January 27, the FAA issued a report that describes the progress made toward fulfilling commitments made in the Call to Action, and offers recommendations for additional steps to enhance aviation safety."

Babbitt when went on to update the committee on the issues outlined in the September testimony.

Pilot Flight Time, Rest and Fatigue: Babbitt told the committee that while he was pleased with the product provided to him by the Aviation Rules Committee (ARC) after their meetings in September, the body did not reach a consensus agreement on all areas and was not charged with doing any type of economic analysis. "Consequently," Babbitt said "in spite of my direction for a very aggressive timeline in which to develop a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), my hope that a rulemaking proposal could have been issued by the end of last year did not happen. The complexities involved with these issues are part of the reason why the FAA has struggled to finalize proposed regulations on fatigue and duty time that were issued in the mid-1990s."

Babbitt also defended the practice of some pilots commuting long distances, even across the country, to reach their departure airports, which was one of the factors cited in the Colgan Air report.  "I understand that, to people not familiar with the airline industry, the issue of living in one city and working hundreds of miles away in another does not make sense," he said. "But in the airline industry, this is not only a common practice, it is one airline employees have come to rely on. So I want to emphasize these issues are complex and, depending on how they are addressed, could have significant impacts on people's lives."

Focused Inspection Initiative: Babbitt told the committee that FAA inspectors conducted a two-part, focused review of air carrier flight crewmember training, qualification, and management practices lasting three months last summer. "Based on the information from last summer's inspections, the FAA is drafting a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) with guidance material on how to conduct a comprehensive training program review in the context of a safety management system (SMS)," he said.  "A complementary Notice to FAA inspectors will provide guidance on how to conduct surveillance. SMS aims to integrate modern safety risk management and safety assurance concepts into repeatable, proactive systems."

Obtain Air Carriers' Commitment to Most Effective Practices:  Administrator Babbitt told the committee he had sent a letter to all part 121 operators and their unions and requested written commitments to adhere to the highest professional standards. "Many airlines are now taking steps to ensure that their smaller partner airlines adopt the larger airline's most effective safety practices," he reported. "The FAA approved 11 new FOQA programs, with another application pending. Also, as of last July, there were only three air carriers that had no ASAP program for any employee group. Those three carriers have now established ASAP programs. Four more air carriers have established new ASAP programs for additional employee groups."

Professionalism and Mentoring: "In February, the FAA will host a forum for labor organizations to further develop and improve professionalism and transfer of pilot experience," Babbitt said. "In the interim, these organizations have answered the Call to Action and support the establishment or professional standards and ethics committees, a code of ethics, and safety risk management meetings between the FAA and major and regional air carriers."

Crew Training Requirements: The administrator said he understands that there needs to be consistency in pilot experience and training. "I am attempting to address this issue with an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in which we can consider possible alternative requirements, such as an endorsement on a commercial license to indicate specific qualifications," he said.

Pilot Records: "I have asked that air carriers immediately implement a policy of asking pilot applicants to voluntarily disclose FAA records, including notices of disapproval for evaluation events," Babbitt said. "The airlines agreed to use this best practice for pilot record checks to allow for a more expansive review of records created over the course a pilot's career."

Administrator Babbitt concluded his prepared remarks by saying the core of many of the issues facing the air carrier industry today is professionalism. "It is the duty of the flight crew to arrive for work rested and ready to perform their jobs, regardless of whether they live down the street from the airport or a thousand miles away. Professionalism is not something we can regulate, but it is something we can encourage and urge pilots and flight crews to aspire to. I think the conversations we have been having, in part because of the Call to Action, are helpful in emphasizing the importance of professionalism in aviation safety."




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