WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration is missing deadlines and falling far behind where it should be in implementing the landmark aviation safety law that Congress passed after the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, which killed 50 people nearly four years ago in Clarence Center.
That’s the conclusion reached by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general after an investigation of the FAA’s progress in implementing the 2010 law.
“While FAA has implemented many elements of the Act, the Agency and industry have not yet achieved the full measure of the Act’s intended safety enhancements,” the inspector general’s report said.
In particular, the inspector general said the FAA missed deadlines on:
• Aug. 1, 2011, for developing a mentoring program in which captains would help inexperienced first officers learn on the job.
• Oct. 1, 2011, for finalizing more modern pilot training rules that will require more hands-on learning.
• Aug. 1, 2012, for boosting qualifications and experience requirements for commercial airline pilots.
The airline industry is objecting to many of the FAA’s proposals on those rules, and that is slowing down the process, the inspector general said.
Some of the problems, though, appear to be the FAA’s own doing.
“FAA has not provided sufficient management attention or assistance to smaller carriers for meeting new safety standards, or followed through on its commitment to help these carriers with safety program development and support,” the inspector general said.
As a result, only 12 percent of small regional airlines have flight data recording programs that keep track of aircraft performance; 90 percent of major airlines do.
And the FAA has not done enough to ensure that regional airlines are ready for a requirement, set to take effect this August, that all its first officers have an air transport certificate – a higher grade of qualification that requires more experience.
As a result, at two regional airlines that the IG staff visited, 75 percent of co-pilots still don’t have an air transport certificate.
While the Families of Continental Flight 3407 have been highlighting the missed deadlines for many months, the IG report ratchets up pressure on the FAA to get moving.
“Successful implementation of such rules depends on FAA’s ability to address air carrier concerns and work though the regulatory process in a timely manner, which has presented challenges for the agency,” the report said.
The Families of Continental Flight 3407 and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., are adding to the pressure.
The families group has announced that a significant number of people who lost loved ones in the Feb. 12, 2009, crash will be in Washington next week on the anniversary of the tragedy to press for progress on the aviation safety measures.
“As we hit year four, and as the industry continues to throw the kitchen sink at the FAA in the hopes of stalling or watering down these critical safety initiatives, we feel the need to remind everyone in Washington” – from the FAA to the DOT to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to both houses of Congress – “that the job is far from done,” said John Kausner, of Clarence, a leading member of the families group, whose daughter, Ellyce, was killed in the crash.