Monday, June 15, 2009

Lawmakers Confront Gaps in Aviation Safety Net

By Kathryn A. Wolfe, CQ Staff
June 15, 2009 – 8:00 a.m.

When a Continental Connections commuter plane crashed in February killing everyone on board, the captain at the controls had failed two flying proficiency tests in the past, unbeknownst to operator Colgan Air.

During testimony before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in May, Mary Finnegan, Colgan’s vice president for administration, said Colgan knew about one prior failure, but not the two others. She said they wouldn’t have hired the pilot if they had known his full testing history.

After several crashes involving pilots whose safety backgrounds had not been checked, Congress enacted a law in 1996 (PL 104-264) requiring airlines to gather and share past performance information on prospective pilots. However, this law only enables the release of information for the previous five years. Information beyond that time is not required to be released, and such was the case for the Colgan captain.

Last week, lawmakers began confronting gaps in the aviation safety net raised by the crash, including whether the pilot record law needs to be revised.

Rep. Jean Schmidt , R-Ohio, is drafting a bill that would create a national database that would allow airlines to check pilots’ safety backgrounds.

“I want to protect the hard-earned integrity of our airline pilots,” Schmidt said. “It is my intention that this database will assist airlines in sharing data about pilots seeking to change employers and weed out those applicants who are not up to the high standards we have come to expect in our nation’s pilots.”

The idea has the support of the airline industry, but is viewed warily by the pilots union. (Continue - Link)

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