Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Senior Special Writer Andy Pasztor states:

Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt, in his most detailed comments yet about combating pilot fatigue, vowed to tailor future regulations to better reflect the safety challenges facing commuter pilots.  In a speech to the country’s largest commercial-pilot union, the agency’s administrator said the current "one size fits all" regulations don’t adequately take into account fatigue typically experienced by commuter pilots, some of whom fly five or more segments per day.

This speech by Administrator Babbitt underscores the growing concern about Pilot fatigue and safety of the aircraft that are flown.  Ever since it came to light that the co-pilot of the Continental Flight 3407, which crashed in Buffalo, New York, had commuted from Seattle to Newark to be on the flight, and that the pilot was not familiar with the de-icing procedures for the type of aircraft he was flying, pilot training, fatigue and maintenance have been hot topics.

Administrator Babbitt vowed in his speech to the Air Line Pilots Air Safety Forum not to wait until the Congress gets its act together and passes legislation.  He said that he has set up a rulemaking committee studying fatigue:  "I want to make sure that we get the answers we need as working men and women aviators.  In rulemaking not only does one size not fit all, but it’s unsafe to think that it can."

Although not part of his rulemaking committee, Administrator Babbitt also mentioned that the FAA is holding a series of 12 nationwide airline safety forums aimed at "stimulat[ing] a safer, more professional enviroment at regional airlines. . . the discussions are focusing on air carrier management responsibilities for crew education and support, professional standards, flight discipline, training standards and performeance."

This is not to say that Congress is standing still waiting to see the outcome of these rules and meetings.  The Senate Subcommittee on Aviation has a held a series of three hearings on Aviation Safety, the most recent being August  6, 2009, which focused on "the relationship between the major, or network, airlines and their regional airline partners." (Witness lists for the three hearings appear after the jump).  The goal, as expressed by Subcommittee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is to "to determine if there are further steps we can or must take to ensure there is one level of safety throughout the commercial air transportation system."

Maybe Administrator Babbitt got it right when he concluded his remarks by stating that "if you think the safety bar is set too high, your sights are set way too low."

Continue Reading Pilot Safety Rule Focus of New FAA Administrator Babbitt

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Wednesday, June 10, 2009, that small regional airlines are held to the same safety standards as the major carriers. Babbitt says he and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood are ensuring that the FAA is taking steps to ensure that that is the practice as well as the law. However, FAA Inspector General Calvin Scovell  says that is not currently the case.

Subcommittee Chair Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) opened the hearing with the statement that he was concerned that there is a double standard in aviation instead of  "one level of safety for both regional and major carriers."  This issue has come to the forefront since the crash of Colgan Air flight in Buffalo, raising issues of pilot training, proficiency and pay at regional airlines.  The investigation into that crash has revealed that the pilot flew cross country as a passenger on a flight the night before and lacked experience in the deicing procedures for the type of aircraft that crashed.

FAA Administrator Babbitt said that the same safety laws and regulations apply across the board to all airlines, regardless of whether they are regional or national in scope.  That being said, Administrator Babbitt stated that there is much to be done to improve safety and that he and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood are committed to focusing on inspection of aircraft and safety.

FAA Inspector General Calvin Scovell, however, stated that although the laws and regulations may be the same, in practice there are two standards.  He stated that he was particularly concerned about the difference between pilots’ training and level of flight experience in the two types of airlines.  The major airlines did not escape the hearing unscathed.  Scovell also testified that  there have been many lapses in oversight of the major airlines’ technical programs, similar to the problems that came to light last summer concerning Southwest Airlines. In particular, he was concerned that 7 major airlines missed "Air Transportation Oversight Systems" inspections, some had been allowed to lapse  "well beyond the 5-year inspection cycle."

NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker also had some choices remarks for the FAA.  He informed the panel that the FAA has failed to heed recommendations suggested by the NTSB that would produce greater safety.  When asked how many recommended changes were outstanding, Chairman Rosenker stated that there about 450 recommendations still outstanding with some 10 – 15 years old.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) called this an "outrage" and an indictment of the FAA, "it is not about anyone personally, it is the institution, it is the way they think, and it is very disturbing to me."

In the end, Administrator Babbitt promised to consider the NTSB recommendations, and although the FAA will not adopt them all, he would make the FAA "more transparent" about the process.

Click on "continue reading" to see list of written statements and link to the archived webcast of the hearing.

Continue Reading U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Holds Hearing on FAA’s Role in the Oversight of Air Carriers