After years of delays, the federal government has finally promised to create a nationwide database that maintains records of bad pilots and violations they made throughout their careers. However, it may take more years before implementation of the program.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on May 26 of its plans to create a tracking system, which will include a pilot’s training, qualifications, employment history as well as history of alcohol and drug use. Before making any hires, airlines must review this database.
Database born out of 2009 airline crash
The push to create the federally mandated tracking system surfaced in 2009 after the last major U.S. aviation disaster, attributed to pilot error. Fifty people died – 49 on the plane and one on the ground — when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed into a home near Buffalo, New York, on Feb. 12, 2009.
The pilot of that plane had three times failed the FAA’s competency exam or “checkride” before Colgan Air hired him. Colgan was a regional carrier for Pinnacle Airlines. Just months after the fatal crash, the president of Pinnacle Airlines testified in August 2009 at a U.S. Senate hearing that the airlines would not have hired that pilot had it been aware of his instructional failings.
Three-year wait may be in the cards
The timeline as to the implementation of the database remains murky, though. While the FAA has until June 11 to publish the final rule, airline carriers will not be required to use the database for several more months. In addition, airlines do not have to submit pilot records in the database until June 2022. Lastly, the final rule declares that airlines have three years and 90 days from the day the new rule is published before having to comply with it.
In 2010, a year after the Colgan Air crash, Congress ordered the FAA to create the pilot records database. However, the first version unveiled in 2017 by the FAA failed. Congress then gave the FAA until 2020 to create a new version of the database, but the agency did not meet the deadline.