Watchdog: FAA 8 years away from pilot database

Story highlights

  • The Federal Aviation Administration delayed creating a critical database
  • It is at least 8 years away from creating the congressionally mandated system

Washington (CNN)The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed creating a critical database, which Congress mandated, to help keep track and weed out poorly trained pilots.

The Department of Transportation Inspector General's office released an audit last week saying until the agency addresses these shortcomings "significant gaps will persist in the extent and level of data reviewed by airlines prior to hiring pilots."
"Ensuring air carriers have all available information on a pilot's training performance remains a critical safety area for FAA," said Matthew Hampton, assistant inspector general for aviation audits, wrote in the report. 'Without these additional records, air carriers may be unaware of unsatisfactory evaluation events or other items that could indicate performance issues for a pilot."
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    Between 1987 and 1994, the U.S. airline industry suffered seven major accidents that were attributed in part to errors made by pilots who had been hired without background safety checks. In all cases, the hiring airlines lacked access to, or failed to obtain, the pilots' flight qualifications and other safety records from FAA and/or previous employers before completing the hiring process.
    After the 2009 Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, New York, the National Transportation Safety Board found that the captain of the commercial flight failed to disclose failed proficiency checks that occurred prior to his employment with the airline.
    As a result, in 2010 Congress mandated better tracking of poor performing pilots. Congress called for the FAA to develop a database with information about the pilot and their performance from the FAA, airlines and other records (including the National Driver Register.) The records are to be maintained in the database for the life of a pilot to ensure comprehensive pilot records are available to air carriers during the hiring process.
    But the audit found the FAA remains "years away" from creating such a database. The agency has made "limited progress" since the congressional mandate and will likely not have a fully operational database until another 8 years.
    FAA officials said this is in part because Congress did not set a deadline for developing the database. As a result, FAA allocated resources to other congressional mandates such as raising standards in pilot training and performance, and improving rest requirements.
    The database is under development, the FAA said, and will contain the records of approximately 866,000 pilots. But the agency said further work needs to be done in determining protocol for using the database and ensuring the information included remains secure.